Sailing-Oracle looks to shut down Kiwi America's Cup challenge

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 24 Tue Sep 24, 2013 3:58pm EDT

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 24 (Reuters) - Oracle Team USA, emboldened after extending an epic America's Cup winning streak, seeks to hold the once-dominant Emirates Team New Zealand at bay again on Tuesday, depriving them of the one win needed to wrench the trophy from the U.S. defender.

The team backed by Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison has momentum on its side and appears to have shut down a Kiwi juggernaut that had seemed headed to a lopsided Cup victory.

But the crew on the U.S. boat has thrived on adversity, holding New Zealand at match point for days in every condition the wind gods could concoct. Racing has been postponed several times for too much wind, not enough wind and wind from the wrong direction, dragging the event out into a third week.

New Zealand yachting fans, who just a week ago were about to pop the champagne corks to celebrate, are starting to fear the worst and starting to wonder whether skipper Dean Barker can pull off one more win in the face of Oracle's improved boat speed and crew work.

"I'm struggling to keep positive, my faith in the team and Dean is being sorely tested, we're only one (win) away, but my nerves are a bit like our chances, in tatters," said Wellington office worker Will Christie.

Oracle's win in light air on Monday was its fifth in a row, the longest winning streak in America's Cup history. It's 72-foot catamaran had 3-4 more knots of speed at the start, said Regatta Director Ian Murray on Tuesday. It accelerated past the New Zealanders before the first mark and skipper Jimmy Spithill and crew never looked back.

The wind was too light to get second race in on Monday. The opposite problem might come into play on Tuesday, when the forecast is for wind speeds near the limits imposed in the wake of a deadly AC72 capsize early this year.

"We're back more to the San Francisco that we all expected, a building southwest breeze," said Regatta Director Iain Murray. "Already there's 15-16 knots on the racecourse, so the breeze has signaled its intentions early. We're expecting it to keep building through the day."

New Zealand has not won a race since Wednesday and Oracle now needs only three wins to keep the oldest trophy in sport.

For Tuesday, New Zealand has brought the 56-year-old team managing director Grant Dalton back on board to man a pedestal grinder and perhaps restore some confidence - Dalton was on board for all eight Kiwi wins, although he was also on the boat when it finished behind.

The overall score is New Zealand 8 - Oracle 6. But the that does reflect the eight races Oracle has actually won. The team started out two points down due to a cheating penalty from last year's America's Cup World Series, which was sailed on smaller 45-foot catamarans.

So the showdown on San Francisco Bay has come down to the wire and could be decided in the next two days, unless mother nature dreams up a new way to delay racing.

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