26 September 2013

USA win America's Cup with a little help from a Brit

If you had gone further south down the Californian coast last week with the script of this year's America's Cup even the great and the good of Hollywood would have too you it was too far fetched to be turning into a film. Now they will be falling over each other to turn one of the greatest come backs in sporting history into something to show at a cineplex near you.

Last Wesdnesday Team Emirates New Zealand secured their eighth win of the series, they needed just one more. Team Oracle USA with three wins were only on one point, they'd had two reduced before the start of this regatta due to irregularities in the America's Cup Series races leading up to this event. The original tactician on the USA's boat John Kostecki had been replaced after the fifth race with New Zealand having taken four wins that far, but who should step in, but sailing's most decorated sailor quadruple Olympic gold medalist Sir Ben Ainslie, bring the total of gold up to five alongside strategist Tom Slingsby aiding skipper and helmsman James Spithill.

Now remembering that the history of the event starting when the Americans defeated the British, having a Brit come in to the USA team in such a key role had historic implications. No Brit had been on a winning boat in the series since 1903, when my local yacht club the Royal Ulster Yacht Club was the unsuccessful challenger with Shamrock III. But even with Ben on board things didn't go all smoothly. In his first six races settling in while USA won two New Zealand soared to four more wins. So it was that USA faced the prospect of winning 8 races on the bounce, one error and a race going to the Kiwis would end their challenge. Nobody back then thought it was possible.

On the 14th September with the score 6-0 and the Kiwis leading the race was cancelled in strong winds, so it could actually have all already been over. But the fight back did begin, 8-1 down the USA won the next race. But the next time a start was called good was in light winds and the code zero sails went up in the downwind legs. New Zealand were well in the lead rounding the last gate and heading for home, but the race exceeded the 40 minute time limit for a race.

Over the next four races USA kept winning the start and the beat to gate one. Leading to the events on Tuesday. In the first race, New Zealand were penalised at the start gate for not giving right of way to USA. It was enough to see the Americans power ahead to the first mark and a 150m lead that never seemed to be cut into for the rest of the race. In the second race though New Zealand did something they hadn't for a while and won the start. They pushed America off course and into a halt, before zooming away to the second mark. But on the third leg something phenomenal happened, the USA not only ate away at the lead but took a huge chunk out of it. At the turn they had managed to take a 300m lead which expanded on the run for home back up the course.

Ainslie at the help while Skipper Jim Spithill celebrates
So it was to the final race a winner takes all that we all turned yesterday. New Zealand again managed a better start and near the first mark Team Oracle USA actually hit a hole in the wind and her bows went under the water as they started to make the turn. It became a drag race up the second leg, But Team Emirates New Zealand took the next mark in the lead. But on that third leg yet again the Americans managed to grab the lead as they split the course, and with each subsequent cross they found themselves further ahead.

Today Ben is talking about how much he wants a British Challenger to come to San Francisco for the next time. We have some excellent sailors and designers who could make us a competitive boat that will undoubtedly be skippered by the man with that America's Cup experience and four times gold medalist. The one yachtsman who will not be part of a British challenge will sadly be Andrew 'Bart' Simpson who sadly died in a training accident on the Swedish challenger Artemis earlier this year.

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