SAN FRANCISCO — Skipper Jimmy Spithill accelerated his 72-foot catamaran off the starting line and steered defending champion Oracle Team USA to its fifth straight win against Emirates Team New Zealand on Monday to stay alive in the America’s Cup.
The 34-year-old Spithill and his brain trust of Olympic gold medalists — British tactician Ben Ainslie and Australian strategist Tom Slingsby — kept the American-backed boat ahead the whole way around the five-leg course on San Francisco Bay for a 33-second victory.
Oracle’s remarkable comeback from what seemed like certain defeat has closed the Kiwis’ lead to 8-6 and no doubt has all of New Zealand on edge.
Team New Zealand has been on match point since Wednesday, only to watch Spithill and Oracle’s improved 72-foot catamaran sail ahead in a determined attempt to keep the oldest trophy in international sports.
Oracle Team USA, owned by software tycoon Larry Ellison, has won eight races. But it was docked two points for illegally modifying boats in warmup regattas called the America’s Cup World Series, so it needs three more wins to keep the Auld Mug.
The regatta would be tied if Oracle hadn’t been handed the harshest penalties in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup. Besides being docked two points, Oracle wing sail trimmer Dirk de Ridder was disqualified from the regatta and replaced by 24-year-old Kyle Langford four days before the match started.
Because Race 16 was delayed a half-hour due to light wind, Race 17 was postponed until Tuesday. That gives the Kiwis another day to ponder what they need to do to avoid a collapse, and gives Oracle more time to keep refining its fast cat.
Races 17 and 18, if necessary, are scheduled for Tuesday.
Skipper Dean Barker had Emirates Team New Zealand in the favored leeward position crossing the starting line before Spithill, an Australian, got Oracle Team USA onto its hydrofoils, with both hulls out of the water, and sped into the lead sailing across the wind in front of the Golden Gate Bridge to the first mark.
Oracle increased its lead at each turning mark on the five-leg course between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Embarcadero.
Oracle Team USA has won seven of the last nine races, and nine of 11 since Spithill replaced American tactician John Kostecki with Ainslie, who won four straight Olympic gold medals to go with his silver medal from 1996. Ainslie clearly has good communications with Slingsby, who won a gold medal at the London Olympics.
This America’s Cup stretched into its 17th day, making it the longest in history. The 2003 America’s Cup in Auckland, New Zealand, lasted 16 days and ended with Barker and the hard-luck Kiwis losing the silver trophy to Alinghi of Switzerland.