Yachting: Oracle forced to burn midnight oil

By Dana Johannsen

Americans look for answers as Team New Zealand crew outwits, out-manoeuvres and outclasses US boat.

After a long day on the water, Oracle Team USA were in for an even longer night back at the team's headquarters on the outskirts of San Francisco poring over the race footage from the opening day of the 34th America's Cup match.

Outwitted, out-manoeuvred and outclassed by the Team New Zealand crew in the first two races in San Francisco, the defenders must quickly absorb the lessons from day one or risk slipping further behind in today's third and fourth races.

While the scorecard officially reads 2-0 to Team NZ, Oracle are effectively four races behind after the international jury slapped them with a two-point penalty for illegally modifying their boat in the world series circuit. It has left Oracle with a large hole to dig themselves out of. But Oracle skipper James Spithill insists the problems are fixable.

He said it wasn't boat speed that cost his team yesterday, but rather small mistakes and slight lapses in concentration.

He vowed his team would study the footage from the racing and hold a candid review to pinpoint the areas they can improve.

"I don't think you can say we lost on boat speed, I think we made a few little mistakes here and there, it was very, very tight racing," said Spithill.

"We know there's a lot to learn, especially in the modes and the performance of the boat, and there'll be some stuff, tactically, starting and technique that we'll really go into detail as well."

Never one to get carried away, Team NZ skipper Dean Barker was unwilling to say conclusively if his team were faster. He was pleased with his team's performance.

"There's nothing in it, it seems very even from what we can see, and it will be a battle right through to the end," said Barker. "It's still way too early to draw any conclusions, both boats are incredibly even in performance. There's certainly not a lot in either direction that we saw in these conditions today. We'll learn more as we get different conditions and the races go on."

While it is difficult to say conclusively which boat is faster - NZL05 or USA-17 - one area where Team NZ had a definite edge over Oracle was in their crew work and manoeuvring. Given the speeds the high-powered AC72 catamarans are capable of, one small error or misjudgment can cost a team hundreds of metres.

That is one area Team NZ have excelled in throughout the racing in San Francisco, but no one quite knew how the crew would respond when they were really pushed. They were not put under pressure by Luna Rossa at any point during the challenger series; now all of a sudden they had another boat on their stern.

Aside from a wobbly bottom mark rounding in the opening race, where Team NZ appeared to stall coming out of the manoeuvre, handing Oracle the opportunity to luff the Kiwi boat, Barker will be very pleased with the way his crew performed.

Team NZ trimmer Glenn Ashby said he always expected "full-on" racing, but to actually experience the pressure on board was quite another matter.

"It's tight racing and it's hard, you don't need much of a wobble to upset the apple cart and when you've got a 14m transition from one side of the boat to the other and some close racing there's a lot that can happen," he said.

- NZ Herald

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