America's Cup, San Francisco, 2013

Oracle Team USA and Team New Zealand’s Aotearoa slug it out on San Francisco Bay on 15 September 2013, the sixth day of competition for the America’s Cup. Each catamaran won a race that day, taking the score to 7-1 to Team New Zealand. The New Zealanders had come within one degree of capsizing the day before; clearly they had regained their composure.

The first race, the ninth of the series, was in hindsight the turning point of the series. Not only did Jimmy Spithill win the all-important start, for the first time Oracle managed to achieve a notable gain against the Kiwi boat on the upwind leg, where previously Aotearoa had had an edge.

Prior to the commencement of the cup series an international jury had found Oracle Team USA guilty of cheating during a warm-up event in 2012 by placing bags of lead pellets in their 45-foot catamarans to improve stability. Three team members were expelled from the cup, a fourth had to sit out the first four races, a US$250,000 fine was imposed and – most crucially – two points were deducted in advance, meaning Oracle had to win 11 races to retain the trophy. Having wiped off the two-point penalty in races four and eight, Oracle’s victory in race nine saw Team USA register its first official point of the cup.

Team New Zealand bounced back to win race 10 by 16 seconds and slow the American momentum. This was one of the most exciting America’s Cup races of all time, eclipsing even Alinghi’s one-second victory over Team New Zealand in 2007. The lead changed three times during the upwind beat, and at the top mark the split was only 1 second. The race was too close to call during the downwind leg, until Spithill decided to dip behind Team New Zealand rather than gybe. The gap almost instantly became 100 m, a margin New Zealand skipper Dean Barker was able to hold to the finish.

The race had delivered the high-octane, close match-racing Oracle Team USA owner Larry Ellison had hoped for. As Barker observed at the post-race press conference, ‘if you didn’t enjoy today’s racing you should probably watch another sport.’

Team New Zealand won race 11 to take the contest to match point before Oracle Team USA staged the most remarkable of comebacks, winning eight consecutive races to win the series 9-8.

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