America's Cup continues, Oracle wins twice to stay alive

America's Cup: Twice down by seven races, defending champions Oracle no doubt have Emirates Team New Zealand on edge.

By , Associated Press

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    Emirates Team New Zealand (l.) and Oracle Team USA sail near Alcatraz Island during race 15 of the 34th America's Cup yacht sailing race in San Francisco, California Sept. 22.
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This has become the America's Cup that just won't go away, thanks to fickle wind and Oracle Team USA's remarkable resurgence.

Twice down by seven races, the defending champions no doubt have Emirates Team New Zealand on edge.

Skipper Jimmy Spithill and his mates with Oracle Team USA were masterful in light air Sunday on San Francisco Bay, winning Races 14 and 15 to cut the Kiwis' lead to 8-5.

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Spithill steered his 72-foot catamaran to huge leads in both races and has won four straight since the Kiwis reached match point on Wednesday.

Docked two points in the biggest cheating scandal in the 162-year history of the America's Cup, Oracle needs four more wins to keep the oldest trophy in international sports.

Oracle won Race 14 by 23 seconds and then took Race 15 by 37 seconds.

After the regatta was slowed by too much wind, too little wind and then wind from the wrong direction, Spithill and the Oracle boys have made it a contest.

Oracle has won six of the last eight races and six of 10 since Spithill replaced American tactician John Kostecki with British Olympic star Ben Ainslie, who had been the helmsman of the backup boat.

Race 16 and Race 17, if necessary, are scheduled for Monday.

Oracle Team USA, owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, has made changes to its catamaran every night at its base on Pier 10. Whatever it did after Saturday's race was postponed made the cat look like a rocket ship sailing downwind on its hydrofoils, its hulls completely out of the water.

The American boat even foiled sailing upwind on the third leg of Race 15 at about 35 mph.

Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker was slightly ahead at the start but had a little skid heading across the wind, which helped allow Spithill to reach the first mark first and round with a 3-second lead. Sailing downwind, Oracle opened a lead of some 765 yards.

There was a heart-stopping moment when Oracle sailed into a wind shadow and slowed dramatically as it passed Alcatraz Island and approached the top mark. The Kiwis closed to about 100 yards, but then they lost their wind and Spithill surged around the fourth mark and sped across the wind on its foils to the finish line just off America's Cup Park on Pier 27-29.

There was a close call during the prestart when Oracle tacked quickly on favored starboard tack and the Kiwis crossed just ahead on port. Spithill protested but it was waved off.

The fickle conditions on San Francisco Bay have already cost the Kiwis the chance to clinch the Cup. On Friday, Race 13 was abandoned because of the 40-minute time limit with the Kiwis well ahead on the fourth leg in light breeze. When the wind rose and the race was re-sailed, Oracle won to stay alive.

In Race 14, Spithill controlled the start and kept his black cat ahead the whole race, sometimes leading by well more than 300 yards.

Race 14 started in about 14 knots of breeze, which dropped as the boats circled the five-leg course between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Embarcadero.

The Kiwis closed to within about 30 yards when the boats crossed on the windward third leg as they zigzagged toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

Oracle made an extra tack at the top of the leg in order to make a left turn at the third gate mark and go farther offshore. Leading by 15 seconds at the mark, the American-backed boat — which has only one American on its 11-man crew — again opened a lead of more than 300 yards.

New Zealand closed again, but then sailed into a lighter breeze and Spithill raced ahead.

This America's Cup is tied with the 2003 regatta in Auckland as the longest ever, at 16 days. That best-of-nine series was plagued by a nine-day stretch with no racing due to wind that was too strong or too light. When Race 4 finally was sailed, Team New Zealand's mast cracked in two and tumbled into the Hauraki Gulf. Barker and the Kiwis were swept in five races by Alinghi of Switzerland, whose skipper, Russell Coutts, is now CEO of Oracle Team USA.

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