America's Cup: Wind gods fail to smile on two Cup contenders

By Dana Johannsen

Team New Zealand remain stranded one win away from victory.
Team New Zealand remain stranded one win away from victory.

Still one more win away from glory. Still we wait. Getting that precious ninth point in the America's Cup continues to prove excruciatingly difficult for Team New Zealand, with yet another weather disruption pushing the match into a record-equalling 16th day.

It wasn't too much wind that was the problem yesterday, or even not enough. It was that it was coming from the wrong direction. The famously predictable San Francisco Bay breeze that always comes in from the west was yesterday blowing from the south, meaning organisers were unable to set the course until it shifted. It was all due to a front that rolled into the bay, bringing with it rain and light and variable winds from the south.

Aware the front was coming, organisers had offered the teams the option of switching to an alternate north-south course rather than the cityfront course that has been used for every race in the series to date, but both teams rejected the offer.

And so they played the waiting game. The teams went out on the racecourse yesterday hoping the front would pass and the wind direction shift back to the west. But as the mid-afternoon cut-off time approached the breeze was still too far to the left for a fair course to be set and Team NZ returned to the shore for the fourth straight day anchored on match point.

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While the continued weather disruptions have proved off-putting for fans and spectators, regatta director Iain Murray said with so much on the line, the race committee need to make sure conditions were fair.

"There's an awful lot at stake here for these teams and I understand that they don't want to have anything less than a quality race," he said.

"This is representing hundreds of millions of dollars and years of people's lives here on the line, so the implications of getting the right result is super important."

The abandonment of yesterday's racing means the regatta will at least equal the longest America's Cup match in history - set in Auckland in 2003. But Murray points out the Auckland regatta was a first-to-five match, and there was a 10-day stretch in the middle in which there was no racing. Yesterday was only the second day of racing that has been lost since the start of the Louis Vuitton challenger series 82 days ago.

But in the past week organisers have been able to get in only three races, losing the second races to either too much breeze, or not enough.

The delays have caused havoc for the large contingent of Kiwi fans in San Francisco. Supporters have been scrambling to re-book flights and accommodation, but many have been caught short with hotels at maximum occupancy for the Oracle World convention over the weekend, which has brought 40,000 visitors to the city.

The good news is the forecast is for much more "normal" conditions today, with westerly winds of 14-17 knots predicted. A flood tide will add a positive current factor. Oracle will have port entry in both races.

Five longest America's Cup regattas

2013 - San Francisco, 16 days

... and counting. Emirates Team New Zealand could conclude this seemingly never-ending regatta with a win this morning but, the way the last few days have gone, don't bet on it. A combination of high winds, low winds and misdirected winds - along with a pesky opposition - has seen the 34th America's Cup stretch into the record books.

2003 - Auckland, 16 days

New Zealand were also involved in the previous longest regatta, one in which the interminable duration came with an equally-draining result. With winds on the Hauraki Gulf even more baffling than the Bay Area, Russell Coutts and Alinghi overcome 10 straight days without racing to triumph 5-0 and wrest away the Cup.

1983 - Rhode Island, 13 days

Historic for more than its length, the 25th America's Cup marked the first time in the 132-year competition that the New York Yacht Club ceded possession of the Auld Mug. Dennis Conner's Liberty held a handsome 3-1 lead over Australia II before the challenger won three straight races - the final by 41 seconds - to win.

2000 - Auckland, 12 days

For those complaining about the current edition's continual delays and pining for a return of racing in Auckland, it is noteworthy that Team New Zealand's two defences both feature on this list. The winds on the Hauraki Gulf were at their fickle best in 2000 and the hosts' 5-0 sweep over Prada was marred by a pair of three-day lay-offs.

2007 - Valencia, 11 days

After three straight sweeps, the 32nd America's Cup finally saw the challenger take a couple of races from the defender. Unfortunately for Team New Zealand, their early 2-1 advantage was undone when Alinghi won four consecutive races.

Why racing didn't go ahead

Sailing courses are set according to the wind direction, and in most venues that can mean the course changes daily. But on San Francisco Bay the breeze is extraordinarily consistent - it always comes in from the west. Only yesterday, it didn't.

A front moved in across the bay bringing with it light, unstable southerly winds. The teams were offered the option of racing on an alternate north-south course, but given what was at stake with Team NZ on match point, neither wanted to race on the course they were unfamiliar with and hadn't done their homework on.

That left race organisers with no option to but to sit it out and wait for the front to pass and the wind direction to shift back to the west. By 2.40pm local time - the last opportunity to get a race away - the wind direction was still too far left for organisers to set a fair course and so racing was abandoned for the day.

- NZ Herald

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