SAN FRANCISCO — An America's Cup that continues to see remarkable performances by fast, space-age catamarans is nonetheless plodding along because of a convergence of wind, tide and safety concerns.
Skipper Jimmy Spithill and defending champion Oracle Team USA sped around San Francisco Bay to win Race 12 by 31 seconds Thursday and prevent Emirates Team New Zealand from sailing off with the America's Cup.
Oracle continued to improve sailing the only upwind leg on the course and at one point was foiling at 30 knots — riding only on hydrofoils, with both hulls completely out of the water — as it zigzagged ahead of the Kiwis heading toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
Shortly after Oracle's big win, the race committee postponed a race for the fourth time in three days because the wind limit was exceeded.
With the Kiwis at match point, Oracle Team USA responded with a dominating performance in Race 12 to pull to 8-2. Although Oracle Team USA has won four races, it was penalized two points in the biggest cheating scandal in the 162-year history of the America's Cup. Owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp., it needs seven victories to keep the oldest trophy in international sports at the Golden Gate Yacht Club.
Asked if he's enjoying watching the Kiwis squirm, Spithill, an Australian, said: "I'm loving every minute of it."
Spithill even thinks the American-backed boat — which has only one American on the 11-man crew — can retain the Auld Mug.
"Yes, we can win seven more races," said Spithill, who's been almost defiant since Oracle was hit with the harshest penalties in America's Cup history for illegally modifying its prototype catamarans in warmup regattas called the America's Cup World Series.
Barker is aware of the enormous support the Kiwis are getting back home.
Too many more losses and that can turn into pressure.
"We just continue to do what we've been doing, and we're preparing as well as we can for every day," Barker said. "Today I just made a meal of the start. It was on the back foot, and these guys are sailing well enough that you're not going to get a chance to get past them. We're certainly very pleased with the way the boat's going and everything else, and we know that if we sail properly, we'll give them a decent run."
Oracle Team USA won the start after Barker got too close to the line too early. The Kiwis had to bear away a bit, and the 34-year-old Spithill hooked behind them and into controlling position.
Spithill said Oracle felt the Kiwis had a significant edge upwind at the start of the regatta. But Oracle's design, engineering and boat-building crews have constantly refined the black cat "to where we think we're very competitive around the race track and the guys sailing the boat believe we can win it.
"We've been changing everything," Spithill said. "A lot of stuff. We're doing it constantly. We're learning so much about our boat. The only way to learn it is when you get really pushed, and we're getting pushed. You've got two of the best teams in the world and that's the ultimate way to improve your performance. So every single day we're changing something."