SAN FRANCISCO — The first day of the newfangled America’s Cup on sparkling San Francisco Bay ended with Emirates Team New Zealand skimming above the waves faster and better than defending champion Oracle Team USA.
The Kiwis, who had been considered the underdog until Oracle was hit with the harshest penalties in the regatta’s 162-year history, won the first two races of the 34th America’s Cup on Saturday with what appeared to be better boat speed, tactics, and crew work aboard their high-performance, 72-foot catamaran.
‘‘For us, it couldn’t have been a better start,’’ said Dean Barker, the low-key Kiwi skipper. ‘‘I'm really proud of the way the guys sailed. The boat was spot-on today.’’
Both Barker and rival skipper Jimmy Spithill said it’s too early to tell if the Kiwis have a speed edge. While Spithill was aggressive in both races, the American-based crew didn’t always make the right calls.
‘‘I don't think you can say we lost on boat speed,’’ Spithill said. ‘‘I think we made just a few little mistakes here and there.”
On a hot, gorgeous day, the Kiwis lost and then regained the lead to win the opening race by 36 seconds. They led the whole way in the second race to win by 52 seconds.
The Kiwis need seven more wins to claim the oldest trophy in international sports for the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, which held the Auld Mug from 1995-2003.
Team USA must win 11 races to retain the Cup.
An international jury docked Oracle 2 points in the biggest cheating scandal in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup.
The racing disproved concerns that there would be no passing lanes on the short course between the Golden Gate Bridge to just past Alcatraz Island, and that the competition would be devoid of match-racing tactics. There were both in the opening races of the first America’s Cup contested inshore rather than miles out at sea.
This is also the first time sailing’s marquee regatta has featured foiling catamarans, which lift onto hydrofoils when they reach a certain speed, with both hulls completely out of the water. That reduces drag and increases speed.
Races 3 and 4 are scheduled for Sunday.