Oracle Team USA's heart-stopping victory in Race 4 of the America's Cup may have saved the event as well as the syndicate's chances to retain the oldest trophy in international sports.
Skipper Jimmy Spithill aggressively sailed Oracle's 72-foot catamaran to an 8-second victory against Emirates Team New Zealand in the fog, wind and salt spray on San Francisco Bay on Sunday.
Oracle Team USA, owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp., hopes the victory helps swing the momentum and allows it to learn a thing or two about what it's going to take to defeat a strong Kiwi team.
One of those things is home-water advantage.
The finish line of the five-leg course is just a few hundred yards off America's Cup Park on Pier 27-29 on the Embarcadero.
The end of the pier is packed with fans on race days, many of them waving New Zealand and American flags. On Saturday, police closed off access to the area when the crowd reached about 3,500. Spithill wants the fans to know that the sailors can hear them cheering as the races end and the boats fly across the line on hydrof oils.
"There's something about the home-court advantage, and it's very hard to put a value on, but it makes a difference,'' said Spithill, an Australian who lives in San Diego with his American wife and their two young boys. "The more people we can get behind us, the more good energy they can send our way. It affects the guys on board and it lifts them. We want to keep the Cup here. We want to keep it on the bay. These guys don't,'' he said, referring to skipper Dean Barker and the rest of the Kiwis. ``They want to take it all the way down to New Zealand, which is a long way away. So we need to use that advantage. We need all the people from San Francisco and the U.S. to get behind us.''
The Race 4 victory came after Oracle which has only two Americans on its 11-man crew let the Kiwis come from behind to win Race 3. Oracle trails the best-of-17 series 3 to minus-1. The syndicate was docked two points in the biggest cheating scandal in the regatta's history.
That means Oracle needs to win 10 more races to keep the Auld Mug. Team New Zealand needs to win six more to sweep the trophy away to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, which held it from 1995-2003. Races 5 and 6 are scheduled for Tuesday.
On Monday, an attorney for banished Oracle wing sail trimmer Dirk de Ridder filed an appeal with the review board of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) seeking to have his client reinstated.
An international jury tossed de Ridder from the America's Cup for his role in illegally modifying boats in warmup regattas last year and earlier this year. Attorney Terry Anderlini, a former commodore of the St. Francis Yacht Club, said he believes the ISAF constitution trumps the America's Cup protocol, which forbids appeals of jury decisions.
``The rights of these sailors are more important than the America's Cup,'' Anderlini said. ``You can't just rush this thing along because you've got an event going on and you want a decision before the gun goes off. You just can't take their livelihood away like this without justice and fairness.''
Anderlini said ISAF ``wants fairness and impartiality in these hearings, and we did not have that in this hearing. If we had it, Dirk de Ridder would have been found not culpable or innocent of these charges, and if we had it and that was the result, there wouldn't be a two-point penalty against Oracle and all the rest of it that came down, because otherwise you wouldn't have the foundation to assert those penalties.'
Monday was a lay day. Oracle was out on the bay working on improving its performance upwind, where the Kiwis have shown better boat speed.
``It was good to get out there and work on a couple of things,'' said Oracle Team USA CEO Russell Coutts, who won the first two of his four America's Cups as skipper of Team New Zealand in 1995 and 2000. ``We've got to improve our upwind performance. We were out there working on a bit of that and our tacking. We made some progress.''
The Kiwis showed better speed upwind in winning Saturday's first two races.
Oracle sailed better upwind in Race 4, in part by engaging the Kiwis less and protecting the favored side. One of the keys so far has been being the first cat to round the first mark in a sprint across the wind just inside the Golden Gate Bridge.
That helps it control the race from there. Team New Zealand got there first in both races Saturday and Oracle got their first in both races Sunday. The fourth race loss ``doesn't change anything for us,'' Barker said.
``We certainly knew coming into this event that it was going to be very, very close. To predict that you'd make it through either way to zero, I think, would be a bit cold. We know that we've got to be on our game to keep winning races. We've got to win a lot more points. There are certainly things we need to do better.''
Being winless in four races would have been a massive setback for Oracle. This regatta has already been blemished by the death of British sailor Andrew ``Bart'' Simpson in Artemis Racing's capsize on May 9, only three teams being entered in the challenger series and the Oracle cheating scandal.
The win in Race 4 was ``huge,'' Spithill said. ``I mean, again, it's good to see the team under some serious pressure, especially after that first race we had the lead and we let that one slip away,'' he said. ``A lesser team probably would have crumbled in the fourth race. This team is very, very good under pressure and they will just fight the whole way to the end. They will run themselves into the ground if that's what it takes.''