America's Cup: The Amazing Race

By Dana Johannsen

Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill credited his boss Larry Ellison for having shaking up the America's Cup by introducing the extreme AC72 racing machines. Photo / Oracle
Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill credited his boss Larry Ellison for having shaking up the America's Cup by introducing the extreme AC72 racing machines. Photo / Oracle

It is already being described as a race for the ages.

Yesterday's race 10 in the 34th America's Cup match between Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA will, according to many observers, go down in the history books as one of the greatest sailboat races of all time.

It was spectacular, edge-of-your-seat action, and oh so excruciatingly tense.

In a contest played out on a three-nautical-mile field, it was in the end a game of centimetres, with Team NZ's ability to nail the small moments giving them the edge.

One "touch down" of a hull on the water from Oracle on the opening reach allowed Team NZ to sneak in to the mark zone with an overlap, and take a narrow four-second lead at the first mark.

They stretched their advantage to 11 seconds at the bottom mark, but the real battleground in this America's Cup has been the upwind legs. Yesterday's was by far the tightest racing yet.

The lead changed several times up the beat as the two teams split on different sides of the course, only to converge minutes later reaching closing speeds of 60 knots in a tense game of high-speed chicken. Every time the teams crossed there were gasps from the 20,000-plus fans packed into the America's Cup Park. By the end of the leg, just one second separated the two boats.

"If you didn't enjoy today's racing then I think you should probably find another sport," was Dean Barker's typically laconic response after his team nailed the important win to move within two points of lifting the Auld Mug.

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Team NZ trimmer Glenn Ashby was far more expressive. The energetic Aussie reckoned it was the most exciting racing he had ever experienced.

"It was about as good as it gets racing-wise," he said. "The boats were tapped out performance-wise and both crews were tapped out performance-wise. I'm sure if you had heart-rates on half the public they probably would have been up there with the sailing team, it was certainly exciting."

Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill credited his boss Larry Ellison for having the "foresight and ambition" to shake up the America's Cup by introducing the extreme AC72 racing machines.

"What you guys are seeing is the vision he had. I'll tell you what, a lot of you guys were really critical of [the AC72 concept] but look at what we've got now."

Race 10 - how it played out

- Dean Barker looked in trouble in the pre-start when he appeared to struggle to get back around the leeward mark from below the layline. But he did a good job of holding position on Jimmy Spithill, who was storming along to windward.

- After an even start off the line, Team NZ just managed to hang on to the overlap as they entered the mark zone after a slight touchdown of the hull proved costly for Oracle, who were forced to give way to the Kiwi boat on the inside channel.

- That gave Team NZ a four-second lead as they headed downwind for the first time.

- At the bottom mark Oracle split to the right-hand gate with the Kiwis going to the left.

- Soon after, Oracle tacked at the boundary and headed back towards Team NZ coming across on port tack.

- A series of gains each time the two boats crossed eventually saw Oracle pull ahead after picking up an advantage on the right-hand side of the course.

- The next cross saw Team NZ regain the lead as Oracle ducked them on port.

- The final cross just before the top mark saw Oracle with starboard advantage rounding the left-hand mark and Team NZ, who had slowed on port to go behind them, rounding a second later at the right mark.

- The race was decided midway through the final downwind leg when the two boats converged on opposite gybes. Oracle, on port, opted to slow down and cross behind but it was an ill-judged manoeuvre from Spithill, with his team going too deep.

- From there, Team NZ held their nerve, sailing an error-free final run to close out the win.

- NZ Herald

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