Dean Barker: 'We're in battle of our lives'
DUNCAN JOHNSTONE SAN FRANCISCO
Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker calls it "the most intense battle I've ever been involved in". His trimmer Glenn Ashby likens it to trench warfare.
And after yesterday's second encounter, considered by some the greatest race in the history of the America's Cup, you sense everyone just needs the breather that today's lay-day brings.
Team New Zealand were relieved they had managed to win that "great" race by just 16 seconds. It featured four lead changes on the third leg as the teams again defied the theory that passing wouldn't be possible in these giant catamarans.
An hour earlier Barker's boys had been on the receiving end of a 47s thumping from Oracle, where the defenders not only looked to have blown away the Kiwis' upwind dominance, but also gained a vital momentum shift, leading from start to finish in an alarming show of strength.
Team New Zealand took up the challenge and their crucial revival sees them now just two wins away from glory, with Jimmy Spithill's crew still requiring eight wins to retain the cup.
The modest Barker wouldn't be drawn into where this match might sit in the annals of history. Two races a day, in lightning-fast cats is a whole new dimension.
"But it feels like this is going to be one of the hardest ones ever. It seems like the only time it's been backwards and forwards so much was in '83 [when Australia finally ended American dominance].
"It feels like right now, we are in the battle of our lives . . . we're locked in the most intense battle I've ever been involved in.
"It feels like you are just grinding out every win you possibly can and it's hard, it's really, really hard."
Ashby, the Kiwis' chirpy Aussie, raised the Anzac spirit when asked for his view on proceedings.
"The boats are just so close in performance, both upwind and downwind, it comes down to good old ding-dong trench warfare . . . attach your bayonet type of yachting," Ahsby said.
"Today was a big one for both teams . . . and it was a great day. I think for both teams, effectively it was a win today," he added with the sort of logic that sums up the confusing flow of this final. Advantages come and go from leg to leg, from race to race.
And now the squeeze is really coming on after a day that effectively ended in a draw. Yesterday's results didn't alter the points differential but they ramped up the pressure - for New Zealand to finish the job and for Oracle to find more gains and an unlikely miracle.
Barker had no doubts that the races were getting harder to win, the deeper the match goes.
"It probably feels the same for both teams, I'd imagine," he said.
"We have to work very, very hard to try and get another couple of points.
"It's by no means a foregone conclusion who is going to win this thing. They need a couple of good days and suddenly it's a different ball game."
For a moment, Oracle looked capable of one of those "good days" yesterday. It was only a courageous fight-back that denied them.
Blasting off the start to deny Spithill the first mark, extending their lead downwind and then getting into a gripping battle on the beat, Team New Zealand finally shrugged free on the final downwind run.
They did it with the weather gods hanging over them too, threatening another abandonment as the winds nudged the 21.5 knots limit.
Having suffered that fate a day earlier when leading, Barker admitted that would have been very tough to take again.
"That would have been very frustrating two days in a row. Yesterday it was frustrating but it was sort of good because we'd bounced back from the one (near-capsize) before. Today we really needed that point and we were very happy to get it."
Team New Zealand 7, Oracle 1 (New Zealand need 2 wins to claim the cup, Oracle need 8)
Performance data Race 9: Oracle won by 47s Course: 5 Legs/10.02 nautical miles Elapsed time: USA – 21:53, NZ – 22:40 Total distance sailed: USA – 11.3 NM, NZ – 11.5 NM Average Speed: USA – 31.63 knots, NZ – 31.32 knots Top speed: USA – 42.52 knots, NZ – 42.54 knots Windspeed: Average – 17.6 knots, Peak – 20.8 knots Number of tacks/jibes: USA – 8/6, NZ – 8/8
Performance data Race 10: Team New Zealand won by 16s Course: 5 Legs/10.02 nautical miles Elapsed time: NZ – 22:00, USA – 22:16 Total distance sailed: NZ – 11.8 NM, USA – 11.7 NM Average speed: NZ – 32.25 knots, USA – 31.76 knots Top speed: NZ – 43.01 knots, USA – 44.98 knots Windspeed: Average – 18.3 knots, Peak – 22.3 knots Number of tacks/jibes: NZ – 7/7, USA – 7/7
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