Kiwis beat Oracle in 1st 2 America’s Cup races in Bermuda

June 17, 2017
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HAMILTON, Bermuda (AP) Peter Burling and Emirates Team New Zealand survived two heartstopping moments to win the first two races of the 35th America’s Cup against Jimmy Spithill and two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA on the Great Sound on Saturday.

Although they won twice, by 30 seconds and 1 minute, 28 seconds, the Kiwis lead just 1-0. Oracle won a bonus point for winning the qualifiers, but it was actually a negative point for the Kiwis. That means they need to win eight races to spirit the Auld Mug back to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in Auckland, where it resided from 1995 until 2003. Oracle needs to win seven to keep the silver trophy in the hands of American software billionaire Larry Ellison.

This is a rematch of the epic 2013 America’s Cup, when Team New Zealand, then skippered by Dean Barker, reached match point at 8-1 before Oracle Team USA won eight straight races to retain the oldest trophy in international sports.

For a few dramatic minutes, it looked like Spithill was going to salvage a split of Saturday’s races. The American-backed crew benefited from a wind shift sailing upwind on leg five in Race 2 and made up a huge deficit, pulling right behind the Kiwis sailing through the gate mark. But its 50-foot catamaran came off its foils during a bad gybe and buried its bows in the water, allowing the Kiwis to speed back ahead and open a lead of about 300 yards.

The low-key Kiwi crew shook hands after crossing the finish line just off the America’s Cup Village on the site of a former Royal Navy base.

Spithill told his crew: ”Hang in there.”

Races 3 and 4 are scheduled Sunday.

Despite making some mistakes, the Kiwis showed their dominance in light air.

They also snapped a 10-race losing streak to Oracle, including eight at the end of the 2013 regatta and two in the round-robins this year.

Burling, a 26-year-old who has won Olympic gold and silver medals with grinder Blair Tuke, again appeared unflappable. He is an America’s Cup rookie.

Spithill, an Australian, is trying to win his third straight America’s Cup before he turns 38.

In the first race, Spithill was over the starting line early, forcing him to drop two boat lengths behind to clear the penalty. The Kiwi catamaran rose onto its hydrofoils and sped off across the turquoise waters of the Great Sound.

But the Kiwis later came off their foils during a difficult maneuver and slowed dramatically in light, shifty wind, losing half their lead.

The always-innovative Kiwis are using a ”cyclor” grinding system. They’ve built four stationary cycling stations into each hull to tap leg power instead of traditional arm power from the grinders to power the hydraulic systems that control the wing mainsail and the daggerboards.

Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson

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