SAN FRANCISCO — Oracle Team USA’s toughest opponents were themselves during the America’s Cup World Series (ACWS) regattas sailed on San Francisco Bay, this past week.
Oracle skippers Jimmy Spithill and Russell Coutts faced each other in the match race final on Sunday, after beating all other competing boats in single-elimination rounds. Coutts, 50, beat Spithill, 33, by less than a boat length to claim the title by one second, his second successive match race victory in the ACWS.
In the fleet competition sailed among all 11 boats, Spithill had the lead entering the final race on Sunday, though needed to place second to win. Behind in fifth place, Spithill had to work his way up through the fleet (a seemingly insurmountable task).
Approaching the final mark, Spithill had advanced to third place and, throwing caution to the wind, he flew his powerful genniker sail into the turn, coming up beside Team Korea. As the leeward and favored boat, Oracle Team USA could move upwind.
Team Korea failed to avoid her, touching the U.S. boat and incurring a penalty requiring it to slow. That allowed Spithill to edge across the line in second for the fleet win.
Some 40,000 fans lining the Marina Green cheered the American team sweep wildly, a victory that was not without a bit of rancor directed from Coutts toward Spithill. In the fleet racing on Friday, Coutts crashed into the starting line committee boat at speed when, he contended, Spithill had closed the gap between his boat and the committee boat, providing no room for Coutts to make the line. That collision put Coutts out of both Friday fleet races and fleet contention.
Coutts was reported by the San Jose Mercury News as remarking that his victory over Spithill in the match racing competition was payback, “not that I hold a grudge, but it was a little bit of nice revenge.”
Handed magnums of Moet champagne at the medals ceremony, whatever happened on the water was forgotten, as the two exultant U.S. skippers sprayed each other with enthusiasm.
“This is an excellent result for Oracle Team USA: we won the match racing, fleet racing and also the combined ranking,” Spithill said.
The ACWS returns to the bay, Oct. 2–7, then moves to Venice in April and Naples in May. The ACWS is a series of match (one on one), speed trials and fleet races (all boats) raced on 45-foot, wing-sail catamarans, called AC45s, designed to prepare teams to sail the big 72-foot boats (AC72s) in the America’s Cup.