Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

America's Cup: Mother Nature lets teams know who runs the show

Wind, too much of it, stopped the race yesterday, frustrating Team NZ's bid to claim the America's Cup

Emirates Team New Zealand lead Oracle towards the first mark before going on to win the first race yesterday morning. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Emirates Team New Zealand lead Oracle towards the first mark before going on to win the first race yesterday morning. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humour.

With the entire nation on the edge of its seat waiting to see if Team New Zealand could pull off a famous victory in yesterday's second race, she decided to have a little fun with us.

The day was playing out the way Emirates Team NZ had hoped. They won the first race of the day to move to match point in the series, with a commanding 8-1 lead over Oracle Team USA.

Just one race away from clinching the Auld Mug - often described as the hardest trophy in sport to win - Dean Barker had the boat well-positioned off the start-line in race 12. And then ... bewilderment.

The boats stopped dead as the race committee informed them the wind had exceeded the limits in the pre-start and the race had been postponed. Soon after, racing was abandoned as the wind continued to build on San Francisco Bay.

It was an anticlimactic end to what was shaping up to be a historic day for New Zealand sport.

Mother Nature was toying with us.

But today must surely be the day.

If Kiwi fans are beginning to get impatient about it, imagine what is going on inside the minds of Barker and his crew. It was more than four months ago they first touched down in San Francisco to commence their preparation for the 34th America's Cup and it has been a long, gruelling campaign. They've endured the drawn out controversy of "ruddergate", countless other pre-Cup mind games, a dire lack of competition during the challenger series and two heart-stopping near-capsizes.

And now they are poised one race from victory.

Having stubbornly stuck to the "one race at a time" line throughout the regatta, Barker wasn't about to abandon the script after coming off the water yesterday.

"It's funny, it feels a lot better being one away than two, but it still feels a long, long way away. We know we've got to win another point and we'll just have to be as focused as we have been as trying to go out and win one of the races [today]," he said.

Spithill, too, borrowed from the Team NZ PR playbook when asked how his team would approach today's races, knowing a loss would mean the end of their Cup defence.

"We've got to approach the race to win, regardless of the scoreline. It doesn't change anything for us, we've just got to go out there and win one race at a time," he said.

Racing in lighter conditions than the past few race days, Team NZ rediscovered their upwind strength, averaging 29.88 knots into the wind, and winning the tacking duel with Oracle. But a comfortable lead at the top mark was cut back in the final run home as the defenders, sensing the Cup match slipping away, took a high-risk approach downwind.

Spithill charged down the left-hand boundary of the course, taking advantage of the tidal relief approaching Alcatraz and good pressure. With Oracle storming up from behind and putting them under pressure, Team NZ gybed on top of them to cover, pulling them both out beyond the layline, making for a slow and awkward bottom mark rounding for both teams.

Spithill said with his team in the position they are in, they needed to try something unorthodox.

"I thought Ben [Ainslie] and Tom [Slingsby] called a pretty nice layline down the bottom, right at the boundary on the last run and kept it really close. It only needed one little mistake from these guys and we would have been able to pass them," said Spithill.

Despite the high stakes, there were no signs of nerves from Team NZ when they took to the startbox for the second race of the day, with Barker doing a masterful job in the pre-start from the difficult strategic position of starboard entry.

They looked to have the jump over Oracle at the line and had positioned themselves well to lead at the first mark, when the race was called back before eventually being called off for the day.

Barker said while the false start was frustrating, he knew it was the right call.

"It's the second time we've been in the lead when the race has been called off. We understand why the wind limits are in place and that's the way it is so we respect that," he said. "It would have been nice if we could have got that race in but in the end it was the right decision, it was pretty breezy."

With moderate winds of 13-17 knots forecast for San Francisco Bay today, it is looking more likely organisers will be able to get in two races today if required.

- NZ Herald

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