America's Cup: Regatta a long way from over, says defiant Spithill

By Dana Johannsen

He's 0-6 down in a first-to-nine series and is at the helm of a catamaran that's a good couple of knots slower upwind and turns like a tanker. He is leading a team in utter disarray as they scramble to keep their America's Cup defence alive longer than eight days. But Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill prefers to think all the pressure is on Team New Zealand.

Returning to the water yesterday with a new-look afterguard after calling a time-out on the Cup match on Wednesday to regroup, Spithill's team suffered a further two demoralising defeats on day four of racing.

It is clear that the addition of five-time Olympic medallist Sir Ben Ainslie to their crew will not spark any change in fortune for the Oracle team.

It is not a tactical response that is needed - they need to find some boatspeed, and fast.

The defenders are now just three losses away from handing the Cup over to Team NZ, but Spithill remains as defiant as ever, claiming the regatta is "a long way from over in his mind".

It is one thing to try to stay positive and upbeat. More curious were his attempts to deflect all the pressure back on to his rivals.

Asked if he was feeling the heat heading into the weekend's races in San Francisco, Spithill said it was his opposite Dean Barker who should be the most nervous about his position.

"I think the question is imagine if these guys lost from here, what an upset that would be," said Spithill, perhaps playing to New Zealand's choking insecurity.

"They've almost got it in the bag, so that's my motivation, that would be one hell of a story and one hell of a comeback."

Team NZ trimmer Glenn Ashby, who sailed with Oracle Racing in their 2010 deed of gift challenge against Alinghi, was bemused by Spithill's attempts to flip the pressure back on to the Kiwi boat.

He suggested now might be the time the Oracle skipper should pipe down. "They've talked a lot, those guys, about how they're going to give us a hard time and that we haven't been performing that well over the last couple of years.

"Maybe they have had a bit of an edge in the 45, but we found out the reasons why," said Ashby, referring to Oracle's dominance of the America's Cup World Series events, raced in the smaller AC45 catamarans.

The Oracle boats were later found to have been illegally modified, which saw them slapped with a two-point penalty for the America's Cup match.

Ashby said Spithill's mind games appear yet another act of desperation from the team.

"I think they can try to put the pressure on us all they like but we'll go out there and do exactly the same thing as we've been doing," he said.

"We're just happy to keep chipping away with our programme and look forward to the weekend's racing."

Oracle will be using today's lay day to look at making modifications to their boat as they search for a miracle tweak to nullify Team NZ's obvious speed advantage.

A further two races are scheduled for tomorrow, and Barker and his crew will be keen to wrap up the finals on Monday, although - as they have done throughout this regatta - they refuse to get ahead of themselves.

"We've still got three more races to win and although that doesn't seem like a lot, it is a lot of hard work to get there," said Barker.

- NZ Herald

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