SAN FRANCISCO — Ahoy!
Oracle Team USA won the 34th America's Cup and kept the trophy from heading down under to New Zealand. It has been a comeback story for the defenders in the Cup, held inside San Francisco Bay.
The challenging Emirates Team New Zealand took a substantial lead after the first race of the America's Cup finals series. USA began the final races disadvantaged with a two-point penalty, thus negative 2 to 0. The race is won by the first team to reach nine points, and from the onset, it looked as though the Kiwis would capture the Cup.
The Kiwis won the first three races, making the score 0 to 3 with the defenders still two points negative. However, scoring does not reflect negative values, which meant that USA's score was displayed as 0. Therefore, USA would have to win three races (3 points) to be on the positive side at plus 1.
USA did win a few races, but the Kiwis increased the lead to seven points. Then USA rallied, as it had to win the next seven points just to catch New Zealand, which had to win only one more race while USA needed eight points to win.
For the next five days, USA and the Kiwis battled head-to-head, and like in a Cinderella story, USA skipper Jimmy Spithill crossed the finish line first to tie the Kiwis at 8. The preceding match, Race 17, was a tough loss for the Kiwis, who received two penalties at the start line. USA was the leeward boat, and the first penalty occurred just prior to crossing the line; skipper Dean Barker did not doing everything he could to keep clear of USA's boat, according to the umpires.
Another penalty was given after the start line for New Zealand's failure to keep clear to prevent the boats from bumping into each other. Immediately, USA flew the protest flag, and the Kiwis had to sit for two boat lengths. However, the Kiwis were in irons, so by the time they got out, USA was two boats lengths ahead while heading for mark 1.
In Tuesday's Race 18, the second race of the day, USA increased the distance between the two boats by more than 1,000 meters heading for mark 4. The boats were flying across the bay and hitting speeds of 40 to 41 knots. USA's winning Race 18 tied the score at 8 to 8.
Keep in the mind that if USA did not have a two-point penalty, it would have won when it reached seven points. However, USA had to win 11 races to gain the nine points to win.
On Wednesday, the weather was beautiful and sunny with winds between 18 to 20 knots and a flood tide to help smooth the bay's waters at the start of the final race. When the clock counted down to the start, the two boats were basically neck and neck with the Kiwis on the inside.
However, a little dramatic incident just before mark 1, when USA dipped a hull into the water and dropped back, led most of us in the media to think the race might be over. But USA rallied and rallied huge to gain on the Kiwis, who rounded gate 2 by only three seconds ahead of USA, which was recovering from the hull dip.
However, USA gained the lead after rounding the gate, and then the Kiwis regained the lead in a starboard-to-port crossing situation. The lead changed again at the next crossing back to USA — Oracle's tactician was doing a great job to battle into the lead and not look back.
USA held the lead until the finish line and gained over a 500-meter gap between the boats. The Kiwis sailed a good race, but USA seemed to have a faster boat on the water.
This unbelievable comeback by USA in a winner-take-all final race has occurred only twice before during the final races in the America's Cup.
The 162-year Cup history changed this year with the introduction of the new AC72 catamarans, which reached unbelievable speeds, as well as the race course set inside San Francisco Bay. There spectators could watch from shoreside, especially at one of the three specially built America's Cup parks along the waterfront.
I will be reporting three years from now at the 35th America's Cup in San Francisco, when USA is challenged for the second time by the world's sailors.
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MIKE WHITEHEAD is a boating columnist for the Daily Pilot. Send marine-related thoughts and story suggestions to email@example.com or go to http://www.boathousetv.com.