One of the world’s smallest nations, New Zealand, has taken on the United States in sailing and is winning as the Kiwis are just one win away from seizing the America’s Cup, one of the world’s oldest sporting trophies.
In what many are calling the best racing in America’s Cup history, the Emirates Team New Zealand has outclassed and outsailed silicon valley billionaire, Larry Ellison’s Oracle (ORCL) Team USA, the two high tech catamarans crisscrossing each other across the San Francisco Bay .
“We have now seen more passing in this Cup than any other dating back to the first defense in 1870,” NBC commentator Gary Jobson said in summing up the excitement.
New Zealand has won eight of the eleven races to date and needs just nine to win.
Two races were due Tuesday in what could have been the last day of the 34th America’s Cup, but race organizers cancelled the days events. Strong wind speeds had coincided with a stronger than normal outgoing tide, which when moving against the wind becomes problematic for the AC72 catamarans.
“This is the strongest current day we’ve had all summer,” said Regatta Director Iain Murray in a morning briefing before race organizers postponed races 11 and 12 till Wednesday Sept 18. New Zealand then reached match point Wednesday by winning race 11 before the second race was canceled due to strong winds.
The San Francisco America’s Cup was initially greeted with derision in the Bay area, many complaining that it was software mogul Larry Ellison’s billions that had done all the talking, that the high tech catamarans were too expensive, that the crew had too many international members with only one American, and that the race was attracting little promised crowds or fanfare.
The Oracle team was also busted for cheating, evidence surfacing that they had added illegal weights to boats in earlier races. The team denied the charges but was forced to accept the penalties, the harshest in the Race’s 162 history. Three critical team members were banned and the syndicate was fined $250,000 and docked two points in the coming Kiwi challenge.
Locals were even rooting for the New Zealand crew. When Emirates New Zealand was ahead by 6-0 last week, the San San Francisco Bay Guardian wrote that it “couldn’t be happier for the Kiwis.”
“We feel vindicated by this great act of karmic justice to watch Ellison’s team not just losing badly,” the paper wrote, “but being utterly blown out of the water by the straight-shooting team from Down Under.”
Fortunes turned in Oracle’s favor over the weekend however, the team clawing back a race, and American national pride swelling.
The massive battle between the two giant boats is now generating a lot of excitement and not only drawing in spectators along the shores and look-outs of San Francisco Bay but also online.
An official America’s Cup mobile app, produced by New Zealand based Animation Research Ltd (ARL),has reached almost 300,000 downloads, according to Sail-World.com and last week Apple promoted it on the iTunes app store globally.
Back at home, New Zealanders have been hosting champagne breakfasts throughout the finals but all and more eyes will be on San Francisco Bay Thursday.
If New Zealand wins they get to decide the format and the venue for the next challenge. No guessing where that will be.