SAN FRANCISCO — Might a British knight be able to help turn around the America’s Cup misfortunes of defending champion Oracle Team USA?
Sir Ben Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor in history, subbed out struggling tactician John Kostecki for Oracle’s training session Wednesday on San Francisco Bay.
The syndicate hasn’t confirmed if Ainslie will be on the boat today for Races 6 and 7 against Emirates Team New Zealand, but many expect the change to be made.
The team doesn’t have to release its crew list until about four hours before the scheduled 4:15 p.m. EDT start time of Race 6.
Ainslie has been serving as helmsman of Oracle’s B boat, helping prepare skipper Jimmy Spithill for the competition.
While Spithill has been aggressive and dominating at the start of races, tactical blunders and the Kiwis’ impressive upwind speed have put the defenders in a deep hole.
Kostecki called for a foiling tack that resulted in a blunder that led to a crushing loss to Team New Zealand in Race 5 on Tuesday.
The American powerhouse was so soundly beaten Tuesday that it played its one postponement card for the regatta and called off Race 6 in order to regroup and make changes.
The Kiwis lead 4 to minus-1 and need five wins to claim the trophy. Oracle Team USA, owned by Larry Ellison, of Oracle Corp., was docked two points by an international jury in the biggest cheating scandal in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup.
Ainslie, 36, has rallied from tough spots before.
At the London Olympics, he trailed the entire regatta before using spot-on tactics to win the gold medal and secure his spot in games history.
In the final race, he pinned leader Jonas Hoegh-Christensen in the back of the fleet and finished ahead of the Dane to win his fourth consecutive gold medal. He also has a silver medal from 1996.
Going into those games, Ainslie had been called Britain’s greatest sailor since Admiral Lord Nelson, who was killed while leading his fleet to victory over the French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar. A statue of Nelson rises high above London’s Trafalgar Square.
Ainslie felt that comparison was hype.
“I didn’t rescue the nation from the depths of Napoleon Bonaparte,” Ainslie said after winning the gold medal on the English Channel. “You do the best you can do in your style of racing.”
Ainslie was knighted by Princess Anne in March.
Ainslie had another remarkable performance at Athens in 2004. Disqualified from his second-place finish in the second race due to a protest by a French sailor, the British star fought back from 19th overall to win the gold.
Ostensibly, Ainslie is with Oracle in this campaign in hopes of launching a British challenge for the 35th America’s Cup. Britain has never been able to win back the silver trophy it lost to the schooner America in a race around the Isle of Wight in 1851.
Spithill remains Oracle’s skipper.
There had been speculation that syndicate CEO Russell Coutts, who won the first two of his four America’s Cups as skipper of Team New Zealand, would go on the boat. It appears that won’t happen.
Oracle’s tactician must also help grind, turning the winches that help power the hydraulic system and trim the sails.
Team New Zealand tactician Ray Davies, by comparison, doesn’t have to grind. That allows him to better keep an eye on the conditions and the other boat.
Kostecki had been one of just two Americans on Oracle’s 11-man crew.