Team New Zealand seemed content to call one of the most pulsating days in America’s Cup history a draw today as they inched closer to the trophy.
Having copped a 47-second hiding in the opening race, they held their nerve magnificently to claim a 17-second win in the next race.
That halted Oracle’s growing momentum and threw the pressure back on the defenders who must now win eight races to hold on to ‘The Auld Mug’.
Team New Zealand are just two wins away from glory. But on today’s evidence those wins won’t come easy.
Today’s crucial victory came via a nail-biting third leg where the lead changed four times.
Having won the start and got to the bottom of the course with a narrow lead, the Kiwis were under all sorts of pressure in a see-sawing beat where the lead seemed to change with almost every crossover in a tacking duel.
At the end of the day, New Zealand’s win undoubtedly meant more than Oracle’s given the growing mental pressures and the scoreboard.
“It was very important to bounce back from race one,” Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker said.
“The Oracle guys sailed a great first race and they didn’t leave any opportunities for us at all.
“The second one was very close across the first reach … they had one more touch down [with their foils] which gave us the first mark. We felt in a really strong position at the bottom and again they sailed a good upwind and they were right there at the top.
“I think if you didn’t enjoy today’s racing out there, you should probably watch another sport.”
Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill was disappointed his second aggressive start of the day didn’t produce the same result as the first race.
Pushed wide at the first mark by Barker’s nerves of steel, that might have been the race then and there, as Oracle gave up several boat legs on the turn.
If that hadn’t happened, who knows where this race might have gone – it would certainly have been easier for Spithill to dictate.
“We got off the line well today. Unfortunately we just had a touch down and they were able to secure the overlap and that was a critical part of the race,” Spithill said.
Oracle’s fine-tuning of their boat since Saturday’s lay-day has certainly worked some wonders. They have closed the upwind gap that Team New Zealand had enjoyed, though it should be noted that these have come in heavier winds with today’s breeze again pushing the limits after yesterday’s second race was abandoned.
Another abandonment today would have been a disasters for the Kiwis. Fortunately they were able to race on and get the job done – just.
Barker wasn’t too worried about giving up what had seemed such a commanding advantage on the third leg just a few days ago.
“I don’t think we have ever thought of it as a sure thing,” he said of the one upwind leg of the course.
“In certain conditions we are seeing one boat perform better and in other conditions it might be the other way.
“It’s going to be a case of learning all the way through and keeping on developing.”
Tomorrow’s lay day has taken on new proportions given the gains Oracle have made. The defenders need to make more and Team New Zealand need to find a way to counter those.
Team New Zealand wing trimmer Glenn Ashby suspects things might only get tighter from here.
“We have been close from the start. As we evolve through the regatta, you learn more and more and those guys certainly sailed a fantastic race today,” Ashby said.
“Like us, they are learning how to mode their boat for different conditions and try different things all the time.
“I think it is going to be close right the way through.”
The weather forecast isn’t good for the resumption of racing on Wednesday with high winds threatening a scheduled double-header.
– © Fairfax NZ News