Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Yachting: Dominance eludes Team Nz as Oracle gets crucial boost

Weird weather and on-the-edge boats mean even three straight wins and some masterful upwind sailing are no guarantee of success in a contest where it's predicted evenly matched teams will trade the lead often.

Team NZ has support - of all ages -  in San Francisco, but Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill has called on locals to get behind his crew. Photo / Balaz Gardi
Team NZ has support - of all ages - in San Francisco, but Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill has called on locals to get behind his crew. Photo / Balaz Gardi

America's Cup regatta director Iain Murray called it early. The Australian sailing legend said in yesterday's morning briefing he did not expect the Cup match between Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA would be all one-way traffic.

With the two boats fairly evenly matched in performance, it would be crew work, rather than boat speed, that would determine the outcome of the 34th America's Cup, according to Murray. He expected the two rivals would steal points off one another all the way through the best-of-17 match.

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"I still think we'll see a lot of different winners in these races," said Murray. "We saw small mistakes from both teams yesterday and those small mistakes amplify into bigger problems, which are the winning and losing of races."

So far in this regatta Murray hasn't been good at calling the weather forecasts, the unpredictable San Francisco conditions conspiring to mock the organiser's meteorologists, but his racing predictions proved spot on with day two's points shared.

Officially, Team New Zealand lead the match 3 to -1, Oracle still paying off their two-point penalty imposed by the international jury last week.

But after the Kiwis opened the regatta with three straight wins, Oracle's victory in yesterday's fourth race was an important psychological boost heading into today's rest day.

Team NZ has support - of all ages -  in San Francisco, but Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill has called on locals to get behind his crew. Photo / Balaz Gardi
Team NZ has support - of all ages - in San Francisco, but Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill has called on locals to get behind his crew. Photo / Balaz Gardi

Tough-talking Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said the win would do wonders for his team's state of mind.

"It feels good to shift the momentum over towards us and we're going to work hard tomorrow and come out again with the same attitude on [Wednesday]," he said.

Oracle must have been wondering what they had to do to win a race after Team NZ pulled off a thrilling come-from-behind victory in yesterday's opening race to notch up their third victory. The defenders got off to a solid start, drew a penalty on the Kiwi boat at the first mark and led by 18s at the bottom gate.

But skipper Dean Barker and his crew produced a masterclass in upwind sailing, showing better boat speed, crew work and tactics to reel in the Oracle boat and take a 29s lead at mark three, from which the defenders were never able to recover.

Just when they looked to have their foot on the throat of Oracle, Team NZ backed it up with a less than convincing showing in the second race. The Kiwis did not look as comfortable in the windier conditions, struggling with their stability and boat handling on a few occasions.

Barker denied the performance was a momentum-switcher.

"We could have done things a lot better than we did and the things that we take out of the second race was that by our standards we sailed a pretty average race, and we were still pretty close at the end," he said.

Buoyed by the win, Spithill reiterated his call for San Francisco and US sports fans to rally behind his team.

"We want to keep the Cup here in the Bay, these guys don't. They want to take it all the way down to New Zealand, which is a long way away," said Spithill, nodding in the direction of Barker, who quickly replied: "If we take it back to New Zealand, don't you have a house down there?"

Coutts faces up to critics

Sir Russell Coutts hasn't made a public appearance yet at the America's Cup match but he appears to have been fronting up on his Facebook athlete's page - and copping it.

Among the many who gave him the Facebook "like", commenters referred to the cheating saga, and some called for Coutts himself to sail Oracle Team USA's AC72.

Coutts' page said after Emirates Team New Zealand won the first two races: "TNZ very impressive! Lots of work to do if we want to be competitive." That drew more than 50 comments.

Ryan Parkin wrote: "You would think after spending well over US$100 million, making the rules, choosing the venue, having the only 2 boat team and choosing the design, you would at least turn up and be competitive."

After race one, Coutts' page said: "Awesome race ... pity about the result!!" That drew a response from Ed Broberg: "But your country won, Russell."

Coutts' page posted this before the racing began on Sunday: "After all the talk, finally the first day of racing! Seems like two evenly matched teams in boats that appear very similar in speed."

Geoff Dawson responded: "ETNZ against the Oracle cheat squad ... Go ETNZ!!"

- Paul Lewis

- NZ Herald

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