Team NZ nearly sunk in capsize scare
DUNCAN JOHNSTONE IN SAN FRANCISCO
Team New Zealand's America's Cup campaign literally hung on a knife-edge today with skipper Dean Barker feeling only divine intervention prevented a disaster.
The near capsize in race eight this morning saw the Kiwis lose out and allow Oracle to come back into the equation with a win by 52 seconds.
Team New Zealand will take the loss, and thankfully they've still got their boat, Aotearoa, in one piece to fight on tomorrow. That will be crucial after today's second race was called off because of winds exceeding the 22.6 knots limit.
Team New Zealand lead 6-2 on the water. The Kiwis need three more wins to claim the Cup and Oracle now need nine to retain it.
All the focus in today's post-racing press conference fell on the near capsize, a balancing act on the third leg that must have had a whole nation trying to add their weight to right the titling catamaran.
"I think we were as close as you could ever get to having the boat on its side," a relieved Barker said of the drama that came in a close tacking duel with Oracle.
The possible consequences weren't lost on him.
"We made one mistake that cost us the race and it came very, very close to costing us a lot more than that."
Asked how they managed to salvage the situation, Barker smiled, moved his eyes skywards and said: "I think we had someone looking down on us that gave us a little help."
He revealed the team had "been in that situation plenty of times" in the smaller AC45s "but that's by far the closest we have been to a capsize in the 72".
Barker put the fault down to crew work. The complicated co-ordination procedure required to tack these massive boats had come unstuck with an extremely late decision to tack away when they had initially felt they would be able to cross in front of Oracle.
The hydraulic power needed to change the wingsail's direction briefly wasn't there and it was stuck pointing the wrong way.
Barker, at the helm, managed to recover the situation as the crew got their collective effort back on track just in time.
"The boats require real co-ordination between the guys. Normally in an open course you have time to prepare and get all the guys in place. There are times when you rush things and you might miss and the timing is really out. When your timing is out, it's very hard to catch things up."
Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said the drama unfolded right in front of him as he was contemplating an aggressive move, aware that Team New Zealand were under pressure on the cross as the boats came together.
"Initially we were going to go for a hook and suddenly that didn't look that great ... so at the last minute so we just bailed out. I was surprised, I thought they were going to go over."
The consequences could have been catastrophic to a campaign that had been cruising along until now.
A capsize would certainly have ended in considerable damage though there was the belief, because it was happening at a comparatively low speed, it would have been a "soft" capsize, with the boat probably resting on its sail rather than turning completely upside down.
But it has certainly added another twist to a remarkable series and Oracle, having made adjustments to their boat in yesterday's lay-day, were quick to claim some advantage, not just on the scoreboard but also the mindset of the match.
"I think we have gained a lot and we've improved our boat, we have come from behind on the upwind leg and passed," Spithill said.
"That's a huge step for our team and a huge confidence-booster. It's exactly what we need.
"Yesterday it was a never-give -up attitude... what can we do to improve? The guys have already got more ideas and they will work all night again and we will come out tomorrow to step it up more."
After the capsize scare in the first race, Team New Zealand made the point that Aotearoa was good enough not just to start the next race, but also dominate it, again winning the start and rounding marks one and two in front until the officials called off the race because the wind limits got too high.
Barker was philosophical about that.
"The limits are the limits and we knew that coming in here and we respect that. If the wind triggers the [abandonment] call, that's fine, we accept that.
"The second one felt tight but we felt we were in a good spot, it would have been an interesting race.
"We will come out tomorrow absolutely full on to make sure we win some races."
- Fairfax Media