Oracle in crisis mode after 2 more losses
HAMILTON, Bermuda — Jimmy Spithill and his mates with Oracle Team USA might need to start tapping out an SOS from the Bermuda Triangle.
The two-time defending America’s Cup champions are struggling badly against hotshot young helmsman Peter Burling and Emirates Team New Zealand, who are threatening to sail away with the oldest trophy in international sports.
Burling, 26, steered the Kiwis’ fast 50-foot catamaran to two more dominating victories Sunday to remain undefeated in the matchup on the Great Sound. Oracle made an unforced error when its catamaran came off its foils early on the downwind second leg of Race 3. That was enough for Burling to speed away around the seven-leg course. In Race 4, the Kiwis held a slim lead at the first mark and simply took control.
Although they’ve won the first four races, the Kiwis lead Oracle 3-0. Because Oracle won the qualifiers, the challenger started the 35th America’s Cup match with a negative point.
Team New Zealand needs to win four more races to return the Auld Mug to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in Auckland, where it resided from 1995 through 2003. Oracle needs to win seven to keep the silver trophy in the possession of the Golden Gate Yacht Club and in the hands of one of the world’s richest men, software tycoon Larry Ellison.
Oracle Team USA has five days to come up with some answers to try to counter the spot-on design innovations by the Kiwis, who nearly folded after their epic collapse in the 2013 America’s Cup on San Francisco Bay.
“I think it’s pretty obvious these guys are faster and we need to make some serious changes,” a glum-looking Spithill said. “Today I thought we got off the line pretty well, but they were pretty impressive accelerating . ... Clearly, we need to now put everything back on the table.
“I think these next five days will be the most important five days of the campaign,” he said.
The Kiwis and their cycling grinding system have proven too fast for Oracle in light, shifty wind. They’ve also made the right choices on which foils to use on the ends of their daggerboards. The Kiwis used the same foils they did in speeding to two victories Saturday while Oracle’s crew appeared to use two different foils.
The crafty Kiwis are using a “cyclor” grinding system. They’ve built four stationary cycling stations into each hull to tap leg power instead of traditional arm power from the grinders to power the hydraulic systems that control the wing mainsail and the daggerboards. Simon van Velthooven, who won a bronze medal in track cycling at the London Olympics, was aboard for Race 3. Olympic rowing champion Joe Sullivan replaced him for Race 4.
As for Oracle’s foil selection, “I thought we made a good step forward,” Spithill said. “I thought we were faster than yesterday but unfortunately, it’s just not enough. But we know that. We’re not going to hide from the truth.”
Helmsman Peter Burling (top) has Emirates Team New Zealand is up 3-0.