SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Emirates Team New Zealand won the first two races of the 34th America's Cup on Saturday with what appeared to be better boat speed, tactics and crew work than defending champion Oracle Team USA.
"For us, it couldn't have been a better start," said Dean Barker, the low-key Kiwi skipper. "I'm really proud of the way the guys sailed. The boat was spot-on today." Both Barker and rival skipper Jimmy Spithill said it's too early to tell if the Kiwis have a speed edge. While Spithill was aggressive in both races, the American-based crew didn't always make the right calls.
"I don't' think you can say we lost on boat speed," Spithill said. "We made just a few little mistakes here and there. It was very, very tight racing. There will be a lot of lessons learned. The team that can really take steps forward from these days, win or lose, will be the team that will advance more."
At the very least, the Kiwis took some hide out of the American powerhouse, which is owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp. On a hot, sunny day, the Kiwis lost and then regained the lead to win the opening race by 36 seconds. They led the whole way in the second race to win by 52 seconds.
The Kiwis need seven more wins to claim the oldest trophy in international sports for the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, which held the Auld Mug from 1995-2003. Oracle Team USA must win 11 races to retain the Cup because it has been docked two points before the contest even started for breaking the rules in a warm-up regatta.
The racing disproved concerns that there would be no passing lanes on the short course between the Golden Gate Bridge to a point past Alcatraz Island, and that the competition would be devoid of match-racing tactics.
There were both in the opening races of the first America's Cup contested inshore rather than miles out at sea. This is also the first time sailing's marquee regatta has featured foiling catamarans, which lift onto hydrofoils when they reach a certain speed, with both hulls completely out of the water. That reduces drag and increases speed.
Races 3 and 4 are scheduled for Sunday. On Saturday, Barker was a little quicker off the starting line just inside the Golden Gate Bridge and beat Spithill to the reaching first mark in both races. That allowed him to dictate the race from there.
In the first race, Barker kept the lead on the downwind second leg and was four seconds ahead at the mark, but slowed down a bit shortly after turning onto the windward third leg. The first time the 72-foot catamarans crossed, Spithill had sailed Oracle into the lead.
But Spithill let the Kiwis get the starboard tack advantage and they protected the favored left side of the course sailing past the cityfront. In the second lead change on the leg, Barker sailed ahead and built a decent advantage.
Oracle appeared to have some kind of damage on its 131-foot wing sail after the first race but Spithill said it wasn't serious. The wing sail looks and performs like an airplane wing, including a front element and flaps.
In the prestart of the second race, Spithill was aggressive and tried to draw a penalty against the Kiwis. In the favored leeward position, Spithill's starboard hull appeared to touch the Kiwi cat but no penalty was called. The boats were slow off the line before Team New Zealand accelerated and lifted onto its foils and beat the Americans across the reach to the first mark.
The Kiwis simply covered the American syndicate the rest of the way. New Zealand had a seven-second lead rounding the second mark, but Oracle crashed its starboard bow into the waves rounding the mark and lost speed.
When Barker and the Kiwis ripped around mark three and began foiling, they led by 46 seconds.