Yachting's prestige America's Cup has reached its decisive moment off San Francisco, with Team New Zealand Emirates just one race off winning. The defending catamaran of Oracle Team USA trails behind on 1 - 8.
Two high-tech catamarans waited for safe winds in San Francisco Bay on Thursday and what could be the deciding race of the America's Cup. A further win would hand Team New Zealand the cup and rights to host the next contest in Auckland.
The Kiwis won their 8th race on Wednesday with one more win required. Another race on Wednesday was cancelled because excessive wind and tidal flows envoked rules designed to avoid a repeat of another team's fatal training capsize in May.
The America's Cup series, which was first contested in Atlantic waters in 1851. It was taken to California in 2010 when software tycoon Larry Ellison and his team beat a Swiss boat off Valencia, Spain.
To clinch the Cup, nine wins in a series of up to 17 races are needed.
Heading into Thursday, New Zealand's skipper Dean Barker acknowledged that his crew was on the brink of taking the oldest trophy in international sports, but added: "You have two boats that are pretty even in performance."
"Every win is hard," Barker said, referring to catamaran's unique characteristics stemming from aerodynamic designs using carbon fiber and light-weight titanium.
Defending Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said he still believed a comeback.
"Stranger things have happened in sport," Spithill said.
"I've witnessed some pretty big comebacks. This [Oracle] team will fight whole way till the end and we won't give up," he said. "It's a long way from over."
Oracle would need eight wins in a row to deny the Kiwis the Cup.
Each 22-meter-long, twin-hulled craft code-named AC72s are fitted with mainsails more akin to fixed "wings" and hydrofoils below that can lift them atop the waves to speeds exceeding 50 miles an hour (80 kilometers an hour).
On Saturday, New Zealand narrowly avoided catastrophe with a near-capsize in buffeting winds that cost it one race.
Until recent years, single-hull keelboats were used in cup contests.
"The [America's Cup] boats have always had the leading edge of technology," said Gary Jobson, who was a tactician on a winning yacht in 1977.
Waterfront spectators have watched the spectacle close inshore because the race course is confined to the waters of San Francisco Bay. Crews in action can be viewed via real-time cameras attached to each catamaran.
The Kiwis first won the America's Cup in 1995 and successfully defended it off New Zealand's sailing metropolis of Auckland in 2000. Three years later they lost the trophy to Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli's Alinghi.
ipj/slk (Reuters, AP, AFP)