SAN FRANCISCO — Oracle Team USA came flying out of the fog around Mark 4 and stayed ahead of Emirates Team Zealand in a heart-stopping sprint to the finish to win Race 4 of the America’s Cup by eight seconds Sunday.
Finally, there were backslaps and smiles from the beleaguered defending champions.
It was the first victory of the regatta for Oracle, which still has a long way to go to keep the oldest trophy in international sports. Owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp., Oracle Team USA was docked 2 points by an international jury in the biggest cheating scandal in the regatta’s 162-year history. That meant the Americans started at minus-2.
Oracle needs to win 10 more races to keep the silver trophy.
Team New Zealand won Race 3 earlier in the day, its third straight victory, and needs to win six more to take the Auld Mug to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, which held it from 1995-2003.
Race 4 was a thriller on a foggy, windy day on San Francisco Bay, with the foiling 72-foot catamarans sometimes veering on the edge of control.
After an even start, the boats sprinted across the bay parallel to the misty Golden Gate Bridge. Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill got there first and swung his catamaran around the buoy at 45.97 knots, or 52.9 miles per hour.
Oracle stayed ahead the rest of the five-leg course, but it wasn’t easy.
As the fast cat approached Gate 3 at the end of the downwind leg while riding above the whitecaps on hydrofoils, someone released a daggerboard while all the weight of the 7-ton boat was on it, dropping the hulls into the water and slowing the boat by 15 knots.
The American-based crew rounded just five seconds ahead, but slowly rebuilt its lead in a tacking duel heading upwind toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
Team New Zealand, which used good crew work to win the first three races, was a bit wobbly on the third leg. At one point its hulls popped higher than normal and the boat was a bit on edge as it rounded Gate 3.
The Kiwis closed the gap and trailed by just five seconds rounding Mark 4 as both boats emerged from the fog. But Spithill kept Oracle ahead as the boats flew across the wind to the finish line.
In Race 3, New Zealand skipper Dean Barker rebounded from a penalty at the first mark and overtook Oracle on the windward third leg to win by 28 seconds.
Spithill had an aggressive start and got his cat across the line first. Holding inside position at the first mark, Spithill flew around the buoy and came within a few feet of Team New Zealand. Both teams flew protest flags and the Kiwis were penalized for not keeping clear. Barker had to slow down to clear the penalty.
Team New Zealand’s 72-foot catamaran reeled in the American syndicate during a tacking duel sailing upwind toward the bridge. The Kiwis sailed into the lead about halfway up the leg and went on to the win.