SAN FRANCISCO — Emirates Team New Zealand skimmed above the waves of San Francisco Bay faster and better than defending champion Oracle Team USA on Saturday to win the first two races of the 34th America’s Cup.
With low-key skipper Dean Barker at the wheel of the high-performance, 72-foot catamaran, the Kiwis lost and then regained the lead to win the opening race by 36 seconds.
Team New Zealand, showing better speed and crew work, led the whole way in the second race to win by 52 seconds on a hot, gorgeous day on San Francisco Bay.
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.
Oracle Team USA, owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, must win 11 races to retain the Cup. An international jury docked Oracle two points in the biggest cheating scandal in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup.
This was the first America’s Cup contested inshore, and the first in foiling catamarans, which lift onto hydrofoils when they reach a certain speed.
Races 3 and 4 are scheduled for Sunday.
The Kiwis, representing the hopes of small, sailing-mad country, took it to the American powerhouse.
There were two lead changes in the first race, but Barker dominated the second race.
Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill was aggressive and came close to touching the Kiwi boat with his starboard hull in the prestart of the second race but no penalty was called. The boats were slow off the line before Team New Zealand accelerated and lifted onto its foils and beat the Americans across the reach to the first mark.
The Kiwis simply covered the American syndicate the rest of the way. New Zealand had a seven-second lead rounding the second mark, but Oracle crashed its starboard bow into the waves rounding the mark and lost speed.
When Barker and the Kiwis ripped around mark three and began foiling, they led by 46 seconds.
In the first race, Barker had a slight lead crossing the starting line just inside of the Golden Gate Bridge and beat Spithill to the first mark.
Barker kept the lead sailing downwind and was four seconds ahead at the second mark, but slowed down a bit shortly after turning onto the windward leg. The first time the 72-foot catamarans crossed, Spithill had sailed Oracle into the lead.
But Spithill let the Kiwis get the starboard tack advantage and they protected the favored left side of the course sailing past the cityfront. In the second lead change on the leg, Barker sailed ahead and built a safe advantage.
Oracle appeared to have some kind of damage on its 131-foot wing sail after the first race. The wing sail looks and performs like an airplane wing, including a front element and flaps.
On Tuesday, Oracle Team USA was docked two points and Dirk de Ridder, who had trimmed the wing sail, was booted from the regatta, along with two shore crew members. Additionally, grinder Matt Mitchell was barred from the first four races and the syndicate was fined $250,000.
The harshest penalties in America’s Cup history were imposed for illegally modifying 45-foot catamarans in warmup regattas called the America’s Cup World Series last year and earlier this year. The punishment meant that Oracle started the regatta at minus-2.