SAN FRANCISCO — The fastest boat always wins the America’s Cup, and this one went to a big black cat that almost used up its last life too soon.
With one last spectacular push in a winner-take-all finale Wednesday, the United States managed to hang onto the Auld Mug in closing out the longest, fastest and, by far, wildest America’s Cup ever with one of the greatest comebacks in sports.
“I’m going to rank it No. 1. We never gave up,” skipper Jimmy Spithill said.
Spithill steered Oracle’s space-age, 72-foot catamaran to its eighth consecutive victory, speeding past Dean Barker and Team New Zealand sailing upwind in Race 19.
All but defeated a week ago, the 34-year-old Australian and his international crew twice rallied from seven-point deficits to win 9-8. For eight races, they sailed with no margin for error in a new class of boats that had a learning curve that was almost straight up.
Even Ellison was motivated by Spithill’s resolve after the Kiwis reached match point at 8-1 one week earlier.
The billionaire said he didn’t need to tell his team anything.
“I just listened to Jimmy Spithill. He said, ‘You know what 8-1 is? 8-1 is motivating,” Ellison said.
“There’s nothing like going all in,” Spithill said. “I’m so proud of the boys. ... They didn’t flinch.”
It could have been over shortly after the start Wednesday.
Oracle’s hulking black catamaran – with a giant No. 17 on each hull – buried its twin bows in a wave approaching the first mark and Barker turned his cat around the buoy with a 7-second lead.
“We just knew it was going to be a tough race,” Spithill said. “I just have so much confidence in the boys on board and the boat. When you sail these boats, you’re on the edge. You really red-line them the whole way. They keep you on your toes. It’s a very demanding boat, but it’s very rewarding at the same time.”
The New Zealanders were stranded on match point for a week. Spithill and crew still had to sail their best.
It had to be a gut-wrenching moment in New Zealand – coming so close to winning the oldest trophy in international sports a week ago, only to see Oracle going faster and faster.
While the upwind leg was known earlier for the “Kiwi stretch,” where Team New Zealand sailed ahead, Oracle found another gear going windward in the final eight races.
“We started this regatta slower than the other team but we ended this regatta faster,” Spithill said. “That was an incredible team effort. That’s really what won us the Cup.”
Ellison praised his entire team.
“The guys finally cracked the code, finally figured out what we had to do,” the billionaire said.
Ellison said it’s too early to say whether the next America’s Cup will be in San Francisco. He joked that it might be around Lanai. Ellison bought 98 percent of the Hawaiian island in 2012.
Regardless, “This regatta has changed sailing forever,” Ellison said.