SAN FRANCISCO — Oracle Team USA remained alive in an America’s Cup that continues to plod along because of a convergence of wind, tide and safety concerns.
Jimmy Spithill and defending champion Oracle Team USA sped around San Francisco Bay to win Race 12 by 31 seconds Thursday and prevent Emirates Team New Zealand from sailing off with the America’s Cup.
With the Kiwis at match point, Oracle Team USA responded with a dominating performance to pull to 8-2. Although Oracle Team USA has won four races, it was penalized two points in the biggest cheating scandal in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup. Owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp., it needs seven victories to keep the oldest trophy in international sports at the Golden Gate Yacht Club.
Race 13 was delayed because the wind kept popping above the limit of 20 knots. The breeze died down and the pre-start sequence began with both 72-foot catamarans in the box, but then the wind spiked with about a minute to go before the start and it was called off.
Organizers will try to get in Race 13 – and a Race 14, if necessary – today.
Races have been postponed four times in three days, including both races on Tuesday. On Saturday, Race 9 was abandoned just as the boats turned onto the windward third leg with New Zealand in the lead.
A number of factors are converging to prolong the regatta.
The original wind limit was 33 knots. After British double Olympic medalist Andrew “Bart” Simpson was killed in the capsize of Artemis Racing’s catamaran on May 9, the limit was reduced to 23 knots as one of 37 safety recommendations made by regatta director Ian Murray.
The wind limit is offset by the tide. An ebb tide was flowing out of San Francisco Bay at 3 knots before the scheduled start of Race 13, reducing the wind limit to 20 knots.
Some have wondered why races don’t start earlier, but the decision to set the start times at 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. was made months ago, in part over TV concerns. That was well before the wind limit was lowered.
The wind that whistles in through the Golden Gate Bridge usually continues to build throughout the afternoon, which is why one race gets sailed but then a second race of the day has to be scrubbed.
The Kiwis, skippered by 41-year-old Dean Barker, reached match point on Wednesday by winning Race 11. Race 12 was scrubbed later that afternoon.
Oracle Team USA was sailing so well in Race 12 that its 72-foot catamaran foiled upwind at 31 knots at one point, riding only on hydrofoils with both hulls out of the water as the boats zigzagged toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
After struggling earlier this regatta, the American-backed crew continues to improve while sailing the only upwind leg on the 5-leg course. Oracle Team USA has improved its technique and has made adjustments to its 131-foot wing sail.
Oracle Team USA won the start after Barker got too close to the line too early. The Kiwis had to bear away a bit, and the 34-year-old Spithill hooked behind them and into controlling position.
Oracle led by 5 seconds rounding the reaching first mark and by 11 seconds at the leeward gate.
The American boat kept its lead during a tacking duel up the third leg and led by 10 seconds turning back downwind. It had built its lead to 29 seconds by the time it rounded the fourth mark and raced across the wind to the finish line off America’s Cup Park on Pier 27-29.