America's Cup: Oracle changes under wraps as NZ stay calm

By Paul Lewis

Oracle enjoy a better race, in similar conditions to their win.
Oracle enjoy a better race, in similar conditions to their win.

Oracle Team USA do not seem to have radically altered their boat at all, in spite of their improved showing upwind in yesterday's thriller Race 8 in the America's Cup.

Reports from those on the water looking closely at the American boat revealed no discernible differences in the areas where a difference could be made - the wingsail, the daggerboards, the rudders and the elevators.

That seems to rule out a "silver bullet" solution found overnight in the Oracle boat shed. US fans were cock-a-hoop yesterday after a much-improved showing which seemed to suggest that their boat had found new wings upwind - the leg on which Emirates Team New Zealand has been making such large gains.

Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill would say only that the team had shortened their "spine", cutting the bowsprit, the extra length of which would normally accommodate a code zero sail, handy in lighter winds (and there were none of those around yesterday).

Other than that, Spithill didn't say anything other than to hint that he knew a great deal more than he could tell and he was quick to claim the win as a morale booster and possible momentum shifter.

"I am not going to tell you," he said when asked about the changes to the boat.

"I'd love to, but I can't. Anyway, I have been telling you guys all along that we can win races and today, to come from behind on the upwind leg, was a big boost for the guys."

He praised his shore team and engineering team and said: "They were rewarded with a win. We've still got a couple of other things to come as well."

Asked if the win was a turning point in the regatta, Spithill said: "It's just what the team needed.

"We don't care what the score is; we'll fight to the end and turn it around. I think that was a key moment right now in this regatta."

Most America's Cup observers believe little has been done to the boat - though it has probably been stripped of any possible excess weight (like the bowsprit) all over.

The reality is that, just as in race 4, Oracle sailed better and Team NZ didn't. Just as in race 4, the wind was at the upper end of the scale, suggesting Oracle are happier and more competitive in stronger breezes.

The racing pattern has now settled into a routine - close starts, the sprint to the short reaching mark and then a pretty even battle downwind. Then comes the crucial turn into the third and only upwind leg - which is where all the decisive moves have been made in the eight races run thus far.

Yesterday, Oracle, with new tactician Sir Ben Ainslie calling the shots, created a split at the bottom with Team NZ heading right and Oracle left. There, they found a beneficial current and a couple of wind shifts and, perhaps buoyed by that, they tacked tightly and efficiently - a weakness until yesterday.

They put pressure on the New Zealand team and, with the boats heading for a crucial cross, that was where Team NZ made its mistake with the wingsail, prompting a hull to be flown agonisingly high and nearly capsizing the AC72.

If all this sounds worrying to Team NZ fans, it shouldn't. Both tactician Ray Davies and skipper Dean Barker discussed this with about as much animation and concern as two men having a cup of tea and talking about the weather.

Spithill claimed the day as a key moment; Barker and Davies' language and body language was "just another day".

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 21 Oct 2014 22:03:26 Processing Time: 443ms