Oracle Team USA arrived on the water today looking like a new squad. Jimmy Spithill, the team’s famously aggressive skipper, owned Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) at the start of Race Nine, adroitly dodging a high-commitment hook move by ETNZ’s skipper, Dean Barker. The timer zeroed out and began flicking out positive numbers as both boats lagged behind the starting line. Then, after sufficiently stuffing the Kiwis, Oracle put their bows down and made for the first mark, leaving ETNZ to find their pace.
Hours ago, the 34th America’s Cup seemed done: The Cup was going to Auckland. Now, however, the plot has deepened.
Following Thursday’s shellacking, Oracle Team USA—Defenders of “AC34”— announced boat surgery in a get-fast-now effort to stay competitive. Few dockside pundits wagered on this announcement, given Oracle’s poor track record. But today the team emerged with a truncated bowsprit (among other less-obvious changes) that they hoped would add punch to their lackluster upwind performance.
If you’ve watched the broadcast footage from the 34th America’s Cup, you’ve witnessed the augmented-reality wizardry that’s been employed to make this event more intelligible to TV audiences. This includes virtual lay lines, virtual boundaries, tide overlays and dirty-air graphics, all of which are broadcast firsts that were unveiled for the now-concluded America’s Cup World Series and AC34 itself.
Depending on what flag you’re waving in this America’s Cup, today was either a massive victory or an enormous setback. Oracle Team USA, the Defenders of the 34th America’s Cup, suffered a bludgeoning on Tuesday and promised change. It arrived today in the form of an afterguard rotation. John Kostecki, the team’s ace tactician, stood down, replaced by Sir Ben Ainslie, history’s most decorated Olympic sailor. Unfortunately for Oracle, this change failed to alleviate their problems.
Say what you will about Larry Ellison and the manner in which he chose to defend the 34th America’s Cup, but I can tell you this: The man knows how to command attention. Of course, this is far easier done for a guy who is reportedly worth more than the Federal Reserve than it is for your average regatta director, but Ellison and his public relations teams have done an impressive job of transforming a city into a foiling circus.