America's Cup 2013: Day 3
ETNZ Wins Big in Race 5, USA Postpones Race 6


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Quotes and Wrap-Up:  Bad loss for Oracle Prompts Postponement
Kiwis Come From Behind in Race 5, Oracle Takes Timeout

San Francisco, September 10, 2013




 Image:©2013 ACEA/Photo: Gilles Martin-Raget
 

Race 5 of the America’s Cup started off brilliantly for Oracle Team USA Team USA, but one bad foiling tack and a decision to allow Emirates Team New Zealand to head out of the current alone spelled disaster for the Americans. 

Jimmy Spithill and Oracle Team USA used some aggressive maneuvering in the pre-start to get between the start line and the Kiwis, who had sailed deep into the starting box.  Coming back slightly early for the start,  Oracle headed up before the line, and Dean Barker went below, possibly looking for the hook but accelerating a fraction earlier at the gun.  ETNZ appeared to have leeward boat advantage, but only for a moment.  Oracle Team USA, starting further from the pin, had a faster angle on the reach and surged ahead, taking the windward position at the start for the first time, winning the reaching leg and establishing an early lead.  Spithill was in command, leaving Barker behind by a half-dozen boatlengths heading downwind.

After an uncomplicated Leg 2, with ETNZ staying close behind but not gaining, the pair converged, coming into the bottom mark on starboard with Oracle Team USA ahead.  Tactician John Kostecki called for a foiling tack so they could quickly head back into the “cone” behind Alcatraz, the area inside the boundary where the flood current, near its maximum strength for the afternoon, would have less impact.  But the tack was slow, with the Americans seeming to completely stall out.  Tacking onto port at the righthand boundary, Oracle Team USA was able to hang on, crossing ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand, but the defender inexplicably chose to continue across the flood current toward shore. ETNZ continued right, staying out of the flood current and when the boats tacked and came back together, Emirates Team New Zealand had the lead, continued to build on it, and never looked back.

Emirates Team New Zealand continued to extend, with the Kiwis taking a commanding lead at the end of leg three, staying ahead of the Americans to win by 1:04.

The post-race press conference was marked by a somber mood among the participants and audience alike.  Criticism of the foiling tack and ensuing tactics abounds.  John Kostecki's absence was interpreted to question his future in this edition of the Cup.  Inquiry was made as to whether Oracle Team USA's other AC72 could be brought into service.  The substitution of Kyle Langford for the excluded Dirk de Ridder was a topic for the third race day in a row.  There was concern about what the decision not to race means to fans.  With the Kiwis still needing to win five more races, ETNZ's skipper and tactician were asked if the Protocol for the next defense in Auckland was ready to be signed with Patrizio Bertelli, who was standing in the room again as he was last weekend.

To Spithill fell the task of trying to bring some balance to the dire tone of the proceedings, and to overcome the inference from the media that what he describes as a re-grouping is instead a collapse.  There was a lot to handle.  Langford is doing a great job and absolutely not a factor in the losses, Spithill has repeated since Race 1.  No decision has been made on what changes will be made for Thursday, he said, and asked to guarantee Kostecki would be on the boat, Spithill was quick to point out he couldn't guarantee he would be on the boat himself.

Ray Davies rightly ducked the question of the next defense as being above his pay-grade, not to mention outright premature. 

The closest anyone came to giving the Kiwis a tough question was America's Cup-winning tactician Gary Jobson, here again as a TV broadcaster, who probed Dean Barker to see how concerned he was about losing the last two starts to Spithill and what the NZL crew might do to get better.  Barker registered no worry on the subject and said that they will carry on as before.

Had NZ lost this race, the start would easily have been reported as perhaps the pivotal moment, Oracle to windward and pulling ahead of NZ and sailing down in front of them.  It was a nice play by Spithill, too, with his head-to-wind at the line getting Barker underneath him to leeward, Kiwis trying for the hook, but undermined by the flood current moving both boats to the pin end.  Barker sitting further downwind at the gun had little leeway to give on the reaching leg, and it was Spithill this time who could put the bow down a touch, hit the throttle, and take his opponent's air.  It was an excellent execution by Spithill of a technique that Barker has been taking to the bank since back in the Louis Vuitton Cup.

Instead, focus shifts to the tactical calls.  With a race this short and boats this fast, recovering from a bad result on the single upwind leg looks to be an almost impossible task.  The lead distance upwind will be doubled or more by the time the trailing boat makes it around the mark and at that point, unless the course is perfectly square, the deep angles and high speeds the AC72's sail make nearly all tactics except prayer useless.

There are theories that the re-grouping explanation offered publicly for the Oracle Team USA postponement is a smokescreen for problems with the boat, the wing, the foil system, a mismatch in their preparation, or something else that gave the team reason to expect a loss in the second race of the day.

The Protocol in Article 12 (d) (v) doesn't restrict the motivation that a team might have for calling a postponement.  Damage is not required to have happened, though that was one intention cited in the drafting of the rule.  But that intention could as easily have been injury, fatigue, or unfavorable sailing conditions.  In the old days of the America's Cup, as late as the 1980's, both teams were given some discretion in the schedule.  Each team was asked by the Race Committee at the end of the race to signal whether they wanted to race the next day, or instead to call a lay day, up to three times per match.  No reason was required.

Possibly more will become known at some point what is driving Oracle's decision. in the meantime, it fits that neither team wants to reveal any more weaknesses that necessary.

Nathan Outteridge offered a perceptive take on the television broadcast, saying that Oracle has won one race, New Zealand has won one race, and Oracle has lost three races.  Though meant not entirely tongue-in-cheek, and not giving full credit to everything ETNZ has done right in their wins, Outteridge's calculation dovetails with the point of view James Spithill expressed today that, much more so than it was in America's Cup monohulls, teams pay huge penalties very quickly for small mistakes in AC72's. 

ETNZ will keep their boat in the shed on Wednesday, giving the boat and the crew a certain amount of respite, but will work on improving all aspects of their operation.  Oracle Team USA for their part says they will be doing all that, plus sailing on the water.


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