SAN FRANCISCO – For about five heart-stopping seconds, Emirates Team New Zealand’s 72-foot catamaran was on the edge of catastrophe in the middle of an America’s Cup race on San Francisco Bay.
The normally spot-on Kiwis rushed a tack during a close-quarters duel with defending champion Oracle Team USA and couldn’t get their 131-foot wing sail to pop through to the correct side. The black-and-red cat began to tip over, its starboard hull rising high into the air.
Skipper Dean Barker didn’t know where the point of no return was.
“But I’d say half a degree more would have been the number,” Barker said.
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The boat paused and then the airborne hull splashed down, to the relief of both crews. Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill skillfully steered clear of the Kiwi boat and sailed on to a 52-second victory in Race 8 that might be a tipping point, in more ways than one.
It was the second victory of the series for the American syndicate, which has now erased the two-point penalty it was assessed in the biggest cheating scandal in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup.
Team New Zealand leads 6-0 and still needs three race victories to take the oldest trophy in international sports to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.
Oracle Team USA, owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, needs to win nine more races to retain the Auld Mug.
Race 9 was abandoned just as the boats turned onto the windward third leg with New Zealand in the lead. That is because the wind had exceeded the 22.6-knot limit during a five-minute period.
Races 9 and 10 are scheduled for Sunday.
After two demoralizing defeats Thursday, Oracle Team USA made several changes to its black cat and sailed much better upwind.
“Mate, it is on,” Spithill said. “This is the turning point. We’ve been saying it all along, that we can win races.
“It really felt the last few days that the Kiwis have been thinking about where to put the trophy and I can tell you we’re going to fight the whole way.”
Spithill, an Australian who was at the wheel when Oracle capsized its first boat during a training run in October, was relieved the Kiwis didn’t go over as the cats zigzagged toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
“Look, it was close to being a huge pileup,” Spithill said. “It would have been serious if I weren’t able to bail out. You never like to see that. I’ve got a lot of mates on that team.”