Sailing-New Zealand gets fresh shot to wrest America's Cup from Oracle

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept 18 Wed Sep 18, 2013 11:00am EDT

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Emirates Team New Zealand gets a fresh opportunity to capture the America's Cup from Oracle Team USA on Wednesday after high winds scuppered the previous day's racing.

The America's Cup could be decided if the Kiwi challengers win both races. New Zealand dominated matches between the two teams in the first week of the America's Cup finals on San Francisco Bay, then lost momentum over the weekend when a vastly improved Oracle won its second and third matches, raising hopes of a last-minute comeback.

The New Zealanders lead the competition seven races to one, with Oracle's first two wins having been negated by a cheating penalty before the finals began. The first team to score nine points will take home the 162-year-old America's Cup trophy.

Oracle, which lost six of the first seven races in the series, is faster since making changes to its twin-hulled AC72 and has greatly improved its upwind tacking. Both crews now execute polished high-speed maneuvers when zigzagging across the bay.

Tuesday's scheduled races were canceled after a seasonally strong out-flowing tide and high winds created conditions that exceeded safety limits set for the delicate 72-foot catamarans.

Organizers set the limits on wind speeds in the America's Cup after Swedish team Artemis Racing suffered a fatal training accident in May.

Tuesday was not the first time weather interrupted the regatta. High winds forced organizers to call off Saturday's second race while already in progress.

A proposal by Oracle this week to increase the wind limits for racing was rejected by New Zealand. Many observers believe Oracle's performance over the weekend shows its AC72 is faster than New Zealand's in heavy winds.

Sunday's matches were among the most thrilling in yacht-racing history. The two supercharged AC72s dueled neck and neck in the second race, changing leads four times, an America's Cup record, before New Zealand eked out a victory. On Saturday, New Zealand narrowly avoided catastrophe with a near-capsize that could have cost it the race.

The recent wild racing has been a vindication for America's Cup organizers, led by software mogul Larry Ellison, whose decision to use extremely expensive and sometimes-dangerous high-tech catamarans for the competition has been widely criticized.

When Ellison's team won the America's Cup in Valencia, Spain in 2010, it gained the right to set the rules and chose windy San Francisco Bay for this year's competition.

The Kiwis first won the America's Cup in 1995 and successfully defended it in 2000 before losing the trophy three years later to Swiss biotechnology billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli's Alinghi in a disastrous campaign that left the team in shambles.

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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