By Bernie Wilson ,AP
SAN FRANCISCO — Emirates Team New Zealand nearly capsized in Race 8 of the America’s Cup, allowing defending champion Oracle Team USA to sail away to a 52-second victory on windy San Francisco Bay on Saturday.
In the most heart-stopping moment of the regatta, the Kiwis’ wing sail didn’t pop to the correct side as the crew tried to tack on the American boat, apparently because of a lack of pressure in the hydraulic system.
The catamaran began to tip over, with its starboard hull rising high into the air. The boat appeared to come within a few degrees of going over before the crew got the wing to pop and the boat splashed down.
Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill did a great job of executing a crash tack to get clear of the Kiwi boat while it was hanging in the air. Because the American boat was on favored starboard tack, Team New Zealand was penalized. The near-capsize had already done in the Kiwis, and slowing to clear the penalty allowed Oracle to sail well ahead.
Had the boat capsized and been seriously damaged it could have been catastrophic for the Kiwis. They have another boat, but it was cannibalized for parts to finish their current boat. Oracle Team USA had another race-ready boat in its shed on Pier 80.
It was just the second victory of the series for the American syndicate, which has erased the two-point penalty it was assessed in the biggest cheating scandal in the 162-year-history of the cup.
Team New Zealand leads 6-0 and still needs three wins to take the trophy back to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. Oracle Team USA, owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, needs to win nine races to keep the Auld Mug.
Race 9 was abandoned just as the boats turned onto the windward third leg with New Zealand in the lead because the wind had exceeded the 22.6-knot limit during a five-minute period.
Races 9 and 10 are scheduled for Sunday.
With the wind pushing the upper limit, race officials knew it could be a wild day among the whitecaps on the bay.