America’s Cup: This Cake is Pretty Well Baked

Published on June 25th, 2017

After America’s Cup defender Oracle Team USA got shut out of the first four races of the 35th America’s Cup, losing to a clearly faster Emirates Team New Zealand team, the schedule offered a five day break before racing commenced again on June 24. Could the defender catch up with the challenger? Paul Cayard reports

June 24: Races 5 and 6 of the 35th America’s Cup were held today on Great Sound in Bermuda in 10 knots of wind. The question on everyone’s mind was: Did Oracle Team USA find some speed to make this Cup competitive? The answer is yes!

It appears that the Americans made new set of rudder foils called “elevators”. The new pair are at rule minimum whereas the elevators from last weekend were at maximum size. The reduction in drag using the smaller surface area elevators was dramatic. The Kiwis had beaten the American’s to the punch in the elevator department, sporting the smaller ones last weekend.

After splitting the two races, the light wind phobia seems to be behind the Americans and they can win a race in 10 knots of wind. Still, the Americans are leaving a lot on the table with poor sailing.

Another botched start and a penalty on the first upwind leg in race 5 and a badly overlaid leeward gate in race 6, were a few of the costly errors by Oracle. They really need to tighten this up if they want to win. I am sure they know this and are frustrated.

June 25: With Oracle losing both races today, this cake is pretty well baked. There are people remembering the comeback of all time in 2013. Same teams, same situation with ETNZ on match point and Oracle with a very steep hill to climb. But the situation is much different. There is no “low hanging fruit” this time.

The boats are very developed and there is no 10% increase in boat speed to be found overnight. If there is to be a comeback, it is going to be through exceptional sailing on the part of the USA team, something that frankly has been glaringly missing in the America’s Cup.

It isn’t that the Kiwis are doing exceptional things. They are fast, but so is Oracle now. They are sailing consistently and they make high percentage decisions. On top of that, Oracle is making it easy for the Kiwis.

This entire series, starting with the start of race 1 when the American team was penalized for being over the start line early, has been a demonstration of subpar sailing by USA. The start of the second race of today was an example of that. Spithill tried to get tricky and Burling simply hooked him, parked him and left him for dead.

The world was expecting a different American team following on from the win in race 6 and solving their speed deficit of the first 4 races. Yet, right from the start of both races today, the Americans were on the back foot…14 seconds worth in race 2. You can’t beat this Kiwi team sailing like that. Then the Americans even sailed out of bounds in race 2. How? Why? Hard to understand.

But Jimmy Spithill is vowing to take it one race at a time. He says they have the speed to win but admits they need to sail better. The lineup of the crew came into question at the post race press conference and Jimmy said; “Everything is on the table”.

He said that he and Tom Slingsby will make the crew decisions for tomorrow just as they have always done. I think substituting someone for Spithill as this stage would be suicidal. The Kiwis tried that in 1992 with Russell Coutts coming in for Rod Davis and as good as we all know Russell is, it didn’t work.

The only way to victory for this team is to hang together and sail perfectly, 6 times. But they only need to, and only can, win one race at time.

It is a very, very tall order.

The America’s Cup Match now stands at 6-1 to Emirates Team New Zealand who need only one more race to take the ‘Auld Mug’ back to their home country. The next race day is June 26 and will continue daily thereafter until there is a winner (first to 7 points). The early forecast expects more downrange winds of 8 to 12 knots.

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