If there was a sobering sight for New Zealand supporters ready to see Team New Zealand win the 34th America's Cup, it came on the upwind leg of Race 12.

It was Oracle Team USA with a handy lead, showing a burst of speed on at least two occasions, lifting them up on their foils - averaging between 1 and 2 knots faster.

Upwind has been New Zealand's happy hunting ground until the last few races. But the work Oracle have done with their boat and their boat handling have helped them make spectacular progress.

They have found a way to sail faster and further - but not hand the initiative to the Kiwis as was happening in their earlier races. Their VMG (velocity made good - the balance between going fast upwind and the right direction to get to the mark) is also much improved.


For example, they sailed about 500m further than Emirates Team NZ upwind yesterday but have found a way to pop up on their foils and go like stink - without giving away too much ground.

"They have definitely made big improvements in their set-up and technique," said Team NZ skipper Dean Barker yesterday.

"They have improved a lot.

"They are able to get foiling and be stable and they are doing it well now. We will need to explore that a bit more and do some hard work on it."

But that should not be interpreted as doom and gloom for Kiwis.

The upwind leg is key - it is only one of five legs but the time taken to go upwind means about 40 per cent of the race is fought on that leg and big gains and losses can be made.

Team NZ admitted to configuring their boat wrongly for the winds that eventually applied at race time - and that may have told upwind for the New Zealanders. They certainly kept in touch with some smart tacking and sailing upwind.

On that crucial third leg, Team NZ sailed at an average speed of 23.53 knots, Oracle at 24.92.

Team NZ hit a top speed of 29.01 knots, Oracle 36.24.

Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said his team were very happy with their upwind improvement.

"We have been working very hard every day to improve the boat," said Spithill.

"Every single day and night we are working as hard as we can to improve our technique.

"We have guys out on the water with us when we race and they give feedback on what we are doing and we try to apply that on the water each time."