Sailing’s Comeback Kids

 

After an intense season of racing in San Francisco, Oracle Team USA Holds the America’s Cup.

Photos on this page courtesy of the America’s Cup and photographers Gilles Martin-Raget, Abner Kingman and Ricardo Pinto

It was, with a nod to Red Sox fans, the sports comeback of all time. Emirates Team New Zealand, the clear leader early in the America’s Cup, was unable to stave off a late charge by Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team USA that suddenly found legs to sweep the final eight races and win the Auld Mug. In each race, the Kiwis were on match point and, for eight races, they lost to a steadily improving Oracle.

Sailed for the first time on San Francisco Bay, the event drew both criticism and accolades for its “new generation” approach with breathtaking 72-foot catamarans flying at speeds of 45-plus knots. Powered by towering wing sails while balancing delicately on foils that lifted the 46-foot-wide catamarans above the water, the crews sailed the behemoths with learning curves one described as “vertical.” Dazzling television graphics made the event understandable to novices, and the courses were designed to please both shoreside spectators and television schedules.

The Kiwis began with momentum after decimating two weak challengers in the Louis Vuitton Cup, while the American team was off the pace, both tactically and speed-wise. Oracle also started the series with a two-race deficit: a penalty levied by an international jury for a cheating scandal that rocked the Cup. But, with the Kiwis needing just one point to take the Cup to New Zealand, Oracle rallied with eight straight wins.

Oracle skipper James Spithill, on the verge of losing the Cup at 1-8, said, “It’s not over. It’s a long way from over.” A brave statement, but no one believed that Oracle could win the next eight races, including a winner-take-all finale where the American team literally sailed away from the Kiwis, winning by 44 seconds.

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