America's Cup: Pressure shows as Oracle postpones

By Paul Lewis

Question marks over skipper and tactician after blunder that let Team NZ get ahead

It would be madness for Oracle Team USA to start firing skippers and tacticians now - but stranger things have happened under the white-hot glare of America's Cup pressure.

Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill bravely tried to defend himself and his team from media questions provoked by the absence of tactician John Kostecki from the press conference after a disastrous Race 5 yesterday.

Spithill's quote - "You can be a rooster one day and a feather duster the next, mate ... I don't even know if I'm going to be on the boat" - will likely go down in America's Cup history along with Dennis Conner's, "I'm sailing a cat, someone else is sailing a dog" line from 1988.

The fact that he is even being queried about Kostecki's job and his own shows the disarray that Oracle are in right now.

Playing the postponement card yesterday was counted entirely necessary by Spithill who said his team needed time to regroup and look at ways to make the boat go faster.

But the move to become the first team in Cup history to decline to race when they were perfectly capable of doing so has been widely interpreted as a sign of weakness and confusion.

Many in the press conference seized on Kostecki's absence as a signal he was on the outer - even though it was fellow tactician Tom Slingsby, the young Australian heralded by many as a rising star, who called the poor tack that effectively decided Race 5 in favour of Team New Zealand. They now lead by 4 points to -1 in the race to nine.

There are also calls for Spithill to be replaced with Sir Ben Ainslie, the British Olympic hero whom even Spithill calls the "best sailor in the world".

Spithill was at pains yesterday to point out that the main problem was with boat speed. All the suspicions that Team NZ's speed upwind is superior were confirmed yesterday. They hit nearly 30 knots upwind in 20 knots of wind - astonishing. The clear conclusion from Race 5 was that Oracle's superior speed downwind is nowhere near enough to compensate for the gains the Kiwis make upwind.

However, the poor tactics at the bottom mark, the sub-standard manoeuvres and comparatively low speed upwind have all conspired to paint a picture of a team in crisis - and maybe crew changes will be thought to be a way to clear the decks, so to speak.

That will be a decision for Russell Coutts, Oracle's boss, though it's unlikely he will throw Spithill out with the bathwater right now.

Kostecki may also be safe. We may not be seeing much of Coutts or Oracle supremo Larry Ellison, but this sailing team have shown they are prepared to show up and face the music.

Slingsby took responsibility for the match-losing tack, saying: "It was a mistake, yes. We wanted to go on the right-hand side but probably we should have kept going straight and tacked when they tacked."

Instead, they tried for a foiling tack to get to the area of friendly tide known as "the cone" first, but almost stalled and Emirates Team NZ just sailed past them.

The other reason knee-jerk changes are unlikely in Oracle is that they may have learned from their team's own history. In 2007, at the 32nd America's Cup in Valencia, BMW Oracle (as they were then) were trying to stave off the challenge of Luna Rossa in the Louis Vuitton Cup. The team made wholesale changes but they didn't work and Oracle lost. Indulging in similar bloodletting now seems unlikely.

- NZ Herald

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