Never before in yachting history has there been such drama surrounding a race as for the first race of today’s ongoing 34th America’s Cup battle between Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand.
It’s not just that the overpowered foiling cats are the most thrilling boats ever, or even that Oracle has won five straight after being drubbed in the early going. No, it’s because, while the score reads New Zealand 8, Oracle 6, everyone knows that on the water Oracle has won just as many races as the Kiwis. The difference, of course, is that Oracle was penalized two races for illegal modifications to their boats in the AC45 World Series, held more than a year ago.
If Oracle wins the next two races, but goes on to lose the last one on Wednesday, the Kiwis will go home with the Cup, but also surely the most hollow sense of victory. It would become one of the most controversial ‘victories’ in the history of the sport.
Furthermore, if the rumors along the waterfront are to be believed, if Oracle were to win today for a ninth victory in what was to be a best-of-17 series, but goes on to lose one of the next two races and therefore the Cup, Larry Ellison will go to the courts to attempt to have the results invalidated. Ellison has used the courts successfully many times in the past to get his way, and perhaps the only reason he hasn’t yet sued over the controversial two-race penalty is that it’s against the rules of the 34th America’s Cup for a team to sue until the event is over.
So if New Zealand doesn’t win today’s first race, the event will be thrown into chaos.
The pressure on Kiwi helmsman Dean Barker and his mates is tremendous. After being so far ahead at the beginning of the Cup, they have lost an unprecedented five straight races. To make things worse, with the event supposed to have ended yesterday at the very latest, it’s been reported that Kiwi head Grant Dalton and other Kiwis have lost their accommodations, and some team members’ visas have reportedly expired. It gets worse still. The Kiwis have lost their accommodations to 60,000 people — 1/7th the population of The City — who have come to San Francisco for the giant Oracle software conference. You can’t move in San Francisco without bumping into a person or bus decked out in Oracle red, let alone get a decent table in a strip club.
Winds are supposed to be brisk for racing today and possibly tomorrow, so conditions are expected to be superb for what’s likely to be the highest yacht racing drama in your lifetime. The first race is slated to start at 1:15 p.m. Don’t miss it.