Tuesday was another epic day at America’s Cup Park. Two amazing races between the Defender and the Challenger that ended in two unbelievable victories for Oracle Team USA, Race 17 by 27 seconds and Race 18 by 54 seconds. Result: both teams are tied at eight points and both have match point at tomorrow’s start.
Only twice before in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup has there been a winner-take-all final race, in 1920 and 1983. In 1920 the defender won and in ’83 the challenger won.
In Race 17, Spithill got a late hook on Barker and luffed his competitor. Barker was required to keep clear but the two yachts collided three times, with ORACLE TEAM USA’s starboard hull bouncing off of Emirates Team New Zealand’s port hull. The umpires penalized Emirates Team New Zealand twice, which allowed the defender to open a lead it would not relinquish.
“That start was an absolute shocker,” said Barker. “We tried to mix it up a bit but really put ourselves in a bad, bad spot. We tried to bring them down the line, but we were just way too early; 40 seconds before the start we knew we had a bit on.”
Another opportunity slip through NZL in Race 18. Barker fended off Spithill in the prestart, gaining a leeward position off the start line, and led at the first turning mark by 5 seconds with both boats blasting along on the verge of control. In fact, Emirates Team New Zealand set the outright speed record for the Summer of Racing at 47.57 knots (55 mph/88 kph/80 feet/second) at the mark rounding.
It must be a surreal feeling for Emirates Team New Zealand. A week ago were ahead 8-1 (and probably already booking early flights out of San Francisco as the 34th America’s Cup winners) and now they are down to the wire for that almost impossible match point.
“We do believe we can win, we’ve known we can win this thing for a long time,” said Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker. “It’s one thing to talk about it and another thing to do it. We have to do everything right and sail as well as we can. We’re going to prepare as we have been and we have confidence we can win this. No one’s slightly head down or lacking in confidence. We know if we put the pieces together we’ll be successful.”
Race 19, the final race, is scheduled to start tomorrow at 1:15 p.m. PT. In the U.S., the America’s Cup Finals will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network. Replays will be available on the America’s Cup YouTube channel.