Dean Barker: 'So close and yet so far'
DUNCAN JOHNSTONE IN SAN FRANCISCO
How did you feel about the time limit ruining today's first America's Cup race?
"So close and yet so far" - that was stunned skipper Dean Barker's reaction as Team New Zealand suffered a gutting setback, having the America's Cup snatched from them by the timekeeper.
Their quest to nail the trophy was again spoiled on match point - first by light winds and then by a dogged Oracle team.
The 13th race on a Friday in San Francisco proved to be incredibly unlucky for the Kiwis.
They had the race and the Cup as good as won as they enjoyed a 1200m lead in the first race but couldn't complete it within the 40-minute time limit.
Regatta officials abandoned racing as the Kiwis approached the last mark with the finish line just one final beat away and Oracle almost three minutes behind, struggling with no wind and gear failure.
Then, in the restarted race, Team New Zealand made two mistakes which allowed Oracle to stretch out to a 1min 24s victory to keep a pulsating match alive, fully brimming with intrigue.
The day ended with New Zealand still looking for the one elusive win to nail this thing while Oracle now need six more victories to hold on to the Auld Mug.
It was the fourth day in a row the Kiwis had been denied an opportunity to claim the treasured trophy.
"What can you say?" asked a stunned Barker at the end of another dramatic day.
"It's difficult ... to be that close but so far away. Sometimes it's just not meant to be."
Barker admitted they had made mistakes on the restarted race.
They copped a penalty after jibing in front of Oracle on the first downwind run and then got squeezed out at the bottom mark, in what was undoubtedly the telling moment.
"That was very frustrating ...just a couple of metres at the bottom mark. We gave them an opening. It was very frustrating we didn't get around the bottom in front."
Barker said the day threw up difficult conditions which he felt they had handled well particularly in the first race when they had been so dominant.
"It's tough conditions ... about as tricky as the bay as been since we have been here, to be honest. There were 50-degree (wind) shifts out there."
Barker said thee was no panic in his camp.
"We know we can do it. We just have to put a good race together."
They'll also need some luck, the way the weather gods are lining up against them.
After having two races abandoned while leading during high winds and then this light-airs setback, the momentum continues to build towards the defenders who are loving every minute of it, having won the last two races when they were facing total elimination.
Oracle tactician Ben Ainslie didn't budge when asked about the get out of jail card they got handed by the timekeeper.
"We were staring down the barrel of defeat there and time saved us," Ainslie said.
Naturally, Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill was cock-a-hoop as his remarkable comeback continued, albeit with a huge dollop of luck.
"Sometimes a couple of things go your way and you have to take them," Spithill smiled after getting a second chance today.
He was crowing about the win in the rematch, as always looking for a psychological edge in this war of attrition.
"What a fantastic race. What a fantastic day of racing. It was great work from our guys.
"Ben made a great call at the bottom and that was the win there and then."
Given that almost two races were completed today, there was no opportunity to start race 14.
That now runs over till tomorrow when another doubleheader is planned.
The coming weather conditions could be interesting with a cold front - the first of the autumn season here - due to cross the coast.
What that dishes up is anyone's guess.
Regatta director Iain Murray is getting concerned at the non-stop nature of the schedule now as he tries to complete the regatta.
It is due to finish on Tuesday (NZ time) if it goes the distance. But if there are more weather delays it will be run till the bitter end regardless.
Team New Zealand can finish it quickly, or Oracle can continue to drag this out - with the weather gods on their side.
Murray's worries are the toll that is being taken on bodies and boats with this endless cycle of racing that has eaten into every available lay day since Monday and must push on without any breaks if the schedule is adhered to.
He will talk to the teams about their view on the scenario and see if they want to get a break for some boat maintenance.
"I would like to have a discussion with the crews about what they are feeling," Murray said this morning.
"Are the crews up to racing these boats? Are there maintenance issues starting to appear? Are they on top of all that?
"The last thing we want to do is end this with an accident."
Team New Zealand changed grinders between the restarted race today with Winston Macfarlane making way for team boss Grant Dalton.
Oracle, with all their boat development and testing on last week's lay-days have only had one day off the water since this gripping final started.
That's an incredible endurance run.
Murray said the way the teams were racing the giant catamarans brought pressures on boats and crews that needed to be looked at.
"We do have to keep in mind these are exceptionally high performance boats. They have been put through probably more than anything we anticipated with the way they are throwing them around in the tacks, the jibes, the loads foiling around the bottom marks ... extraordinary things are happening with these boats."
Murray said he wasn't "being blindfolded" by the competition that has enthralled viewers.
"One of my endeavours is to get this event completed as well as we can but to keep the safety of the crews foremost," Murray said.
"It's all very easy to lose sight of the fact that these guys are doing unbelievable things in bringing us some incredible races.
"But as you saw with New Zealand we have had a nosedive and a near-capsize ... an accident is only fractions of a degree or seconds away .... or a minor something not happening.
"We don't want to lose sight of the fact that we are being over-run by putting boats out there that aren't getting the maintenance.
"At some stage ... it's unrealistic to think you can sail these boats every day in strong winds and take them home and not need a day to catch up."
The disappointment was written on the faces of thousands of people who had forgone a sleep in to watch the Americas Cup on Auckland's Waterfront this morning
For the first time since racing began both Shed 10 and The Cloud were open and both were jam packed with supporters, many who had queued from as early as 6am in order to get a good spot.
Among those watching were Sarah-Jane Blake, the daughter of the late Sir Peter Blake; Auckland mayor Len Brown, musician Dave Dobbyn and friends and families of both sailors and boat builders.
Oracle's win was met with polite applause, a far cry from the cheering when it was thought Emirates Team New Zealand was winning the first race.
Fans said they felt "gutted".
One said "we should have won it the first time round. I am broken I am speechless, I am nearly crying."
"The second race was absolutely gut wrenching. When we led across the start we actually thought we had it nailed and for those guys to dodge a bullet and come back like that it was just heart wrenching."
- © Fairfax NZ News