Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team USA Faces America’s Cup Defeat

The tech billionaire's team has thus far been outmatched by the faster New Zealand boat

  • Share
  • Read Later
Robert Galbraith / REUTERS

Emirates Team New Zealand sails during their win against Oracle Team USA in Race 9 of the 34th America's Cup yacht sailing race in San Francisco, California September 15, 2013.

Update 7 p.m. EDT 9/20: Friday’s first race was abandoned because the boats failed to complete the course under the 40-minute time limit. Oracle Team USA won the second race. New Zealand leads the regatta 8 to 3. Races 14 and 15 (if necessary) are scheduled for Saturday afternoon at 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. PDT, respectively.

Update 6:00 p.m. EDT 9/19: Thursday’s second race was postponed because wind speeds once again exceeded the 20-knot wind limit, according to Regatta Director Iain Murray. Races 13 and 14 are is scheduled for Friday at 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. PDT, respectively.

Update 5:40 p.m. EDT 9/18: Wednesday’s second race was postponed because wind speeds exceeded the 20-knot limit during the pre-start, race officials said. Races 12 and 13 (if necessary) are scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

Update 7 p.m. EDT 9/17: Tuesday’s races were postponed because wind speeds exceeded the regatta limit, according to race officials. Races 11 and 12 are scheduled for Wednesday at 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. PDT, respectively.

Time is running out for Oracle Team USA.

The high-tech U.S. racing team is on the verge of losing the America’s Cup, the world’s most famous sailboat racing competition, to Emirates Team New Zealand, in what would be a bitter defeat for Silicon Valley billionaire Larry Ellison, who spent an estimated $100 million on the American effort.

The New Zealanders need just two more race victories to clinch the venerable Auld Mug, one of the oldest continuously contested trophies in sports. Oracle is scheduled to meet New Zealand for two races on San Francisco Bay on Tuesday afternoon. The Kiwis currently lead the regatta 7-1 after splitting Sunday’s two races with Oracle. On Saturday, New Zealand had a breathtakingly close call, nearly capsizing their boat in heavy wind after a botched maneuver on the third leg of the race (see video below).

The two teams are competing in futuristic, 72-foot catamarans, which have two thin hulls, unlike the heavier, single-hulled boats that were used during most of the America’s Cup’s 162-year history. With their 131-foot carbon fiber wing sails, the AC72s are capable of reaching nearly 50 miles per hour — faster than the speed limit on the Golden Gate Bridge — while flying feet above the water on thin underwater foils, called daggerboards, which lift the boats out of the water, reducing drag and increasing speed.

“This is sailing like we’ve never seen before,” Ken Read, president of North Sails and himself a world champion sailboat racer, said during Sunday’s race broadcast. “These guys are just wheeling these things around like it’s a dinghy out in a Tuesday night race at Barrington Yacht Club back in Rhode Island.” Gary Jobson, president of US Sailing until 2012 and a member of the America’s Cup Hall of Fame, has called the current America’s Cup “match racing on steroids.” Read and Jobson are both serving as broadcast commentators for the regatta. (Race schedule here; broadcast schedule here).

(MORE: TIME Tech 40 — Larry Ellison)

The Kiwis, led by their unflappable skipper Dean Barker, have thus far largely dominated Oracle Team USA, winning seven out of 10 races. (Oracle was docked two points for a pre-race infraction.) Sailboat racing is like a national religion in New Zealand, and thousands of Kiwis have crowded the docks in San Francisco to cheer on their countrymen. For most of the regatta, New Zealand has been faster, particularly on the crucial third leg of the racecourse, where the teams must zig-zag back and forth against the wind. Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill acknowledged earlier in the regatta that New Zealand had an edge when the boats are racing up wind.

The Americans have also made crucial tactical errors, including a botched attempt at a so-called “foiling tack,” in which Oracle tried to make a sharp tacking turn while keeping its hulls out of the water during race five. The maneuver failed, and Oracle nearly stopped dead in its tracks, allowing the Kiwis to leverage their up wind advantage through savvy tactics and sheer boat speed.

In recent races, the Americans have closed the speed gap somewhat thanks to improved teamwork and tweaks in the boat’s configuration. The America’s Cup – like all “one-design” races – adheres to a strict design standard, in order to create a level playing field so the skill of the sailors will win the day, but minor design differences exist. The New Zealand catamaran’s hulls are slightly thicker than Oracle’s toward the bow, which allows the Kiwi boat to plow through the water, maintaining momentum as helmsman Barker executes tacking and gybing maneuvers.

Oracle Team USA was penalized two points in a cheating scandal during an earlier stage of the event, which means the Americans need to win 11 races, compared to nine races for the Kiwis. Oracle team-members were found to have placed illegal weights on their boats, a grave racing violation that the AP called “the biggest cheating scandal in the 162-year-history of the America’s Cup.” Three Oracle team-members were banned from the event. Last week, Oracle replaced tactician John Kostecki — who had been one of only two Americans on the 11-man crew — with British Olympic star Sir Ben Ainslie.

Billionaire Oracle mogul Larry Ellison’s team won the America’s Cup in 2010 and thus earned the right to determine the current regatta’s rules. He called for the new AC72 catamaran, which can hydroplane on top of the water at speeds of nearly 50 miles per hour. These boats are among the fastest, most sophisticated, most expensive, and most dangerous sailboats ever built. One sailor, Andrew Simpson, died in training, prompting increased safety measures for the regatta.

First contested off England’s Isle of Wight in 1851, the America’s Cup has frequently been pursued by wealthy titans of industry with names like Vanderbilt, Lipton, Turner and, more recently, Bertarelli and Ellison. For years, America’s Cup organizers have struggled to make the event more accessible to a mass audience. The current regatta features groundbreaking technology developed by SportVision, which uses GPS positioning to superimpose graphics detailing boat, wind, and water speed during the television broadcasts. SportVision previously deployed the technology for NFL, MLB and NASCAR broadcasts.

For the last two decades, the America’s Cup has been in and out of federal court, as wealthy rival syndicates bickered over the competition’s rules. Ellison’s Oracle Team USA won the trophy in 2010, setting up the current regatta on San Francisco Bay between the Americans and the Kiwis. The cost and complexity of the AC72s — it takes as much $100 million to mount a campaign — kept many potential challengers from competing, prompting speculation that future America’s Cup events will be sailed on smaller, less expensive boats.

The dearth of competitors in this year’s America’s Cup prompted the Bay Area Council Economic Institute to reduce its forecast of the economic activity expected to be produced by the event from $1.4 billion to $900 million. “There are definitely going to have to be cost-saving measures to allow more teams to get into it,” Kiwi skipper Dean Barker told a press conference on Sunday.

Watch Emirates Team New Zealand nearly capsize their 72-foot catamaran during Race 8 on Saturday.

19 comments
Owens
Owens

Equal boats?? Team USA have modified their boat halfway through the race...Call that far and in the spirit...sure what money does when you have to win

Robo

Scott_D
Scott_D

Your caption on the picture is wrong. Team USA won race 9, New Zealand almost capsized.

trancemoment
trancemoment

there are so many inaccuracies in this article...  i've been waiting for TIME to mention the Cup and we get this.  hello, fact checkers??

hiker4u
hiker4u

I would much rather see 10 boats racing instead of two. Larry has priced out most of the world.


TK_Nagano
TK_Nagano

Like Formula 1 Auto Racing, in spite of all the boring races, race 10 with four lead changes and sail speeds at 50 knots plus, made watching the waste of “Dump Truck” loads of money worthwhile.

 – TK

sailerboy
sailerboy

I could not be more disappointed by this series of races.    The problem for me, as a racer is that the AC72 don't resemble anything 100% of sailors sail on. Sure it's fun to watch but the races are way too short at 22 minutes, the boundaries are baloney ,the current is unfair, The start should be 5 minutes not two, there are no sail changes, as so forth.  It's basically been bastardized for TV.  From a sailors perspective I would much rather watch racing at sea, six legs around a triangle course where real long term strategy and boat handling play a bigger part.  Ellison really screwed this up  100 million to campaign a boat  It's nuts and is gonna kill the Americas cup Dead.

 

sfsailor
sfsailor

It's unfortunate Larry's happiness is a topic of conversation for this event. Win or lose, the event IS a success. The boats we are seeing today are like no others. The level of competition is quite amazing considering the different roads travelled. Finally, the coverage both at the venue and for those that don't live close is unprecedented for this event.

I'd love to see the Cup stay in the bay this time around, but either way - thanks Larry, it's been entertaining!

wildepuzzles
wildepuzzles

This piece is so rife with errors that it's ridiculous. As has already been pointed out, it was NOT first contested in 1851. It's called America's Cup in honour of the yacht that took the Queen's trophy in a victory that completely stunned the British at the time, who literally thought they ruled the waves. Furthermore, while I might be splitting hairs over semantics, claiming that the likes of Vanderbilt and Turner were 'pursuing' the trophy is incorrect. Given that they were representing the holders of the trophy - the NY Yacht Club - they were not in the chase, rather the defenders of the trophy.

JohnR.Harvan
JohnR.Harvan

It aint over till its over I believe Team USA will pull it out of the arse yet.   With all the damn war mongering going on I can at least still cheer USA in America's Cup.    Go USA

Larry? Eghh I'm glad he spent the money(he's got to spend)   Watching the cup from a boat on the Bay is spectacular as these boat scream past you doing 40+ knots and not buring any fuel other than the Wind!  Thats something very cool!

OC
OC

Larry may have a hint of over confidence + borderline arrogance + questionable business ethics but fueling his passion for sailing is something I admire! Go Oracle!

poonannyman
poonannyman

Larry Ellison feels he is being religiously persecuted: no one believes he is god.

synical
synical

Larry Ellison has been a hate figure of almost all the observers and rival syndicates in this and the prior Americas Cup series. However beyond most peoples expectations the actual racing has been incredibly exciting on boats that have stretched the boundaries of sailing technology beyond the expectations of their designers.

If the event switches back to a monohull format for the next Cup it will seem like discarding the motorcar for a horse and carriage.

edouard.jensen
edouard.jensen

"The America’s Cup – like all “one-design” races..." On the contrary, the AC is everything but a one design series, it's primarily a design contest.

"First contested off England’s Isle of Wight in 1851, the America’s Cup ..." No. That race was not the first America^s Cup. It was won by the schooner "America". The trophy,  a silver monstrosity called the Queen's Cup, was then renamed the America's Cup and given to the New York Yacht Club to organize "friendly competitions between nations".


JonPintea
JonPintea

Correction: Italy has never won the America's Cup

JC7
JC7

The races have been heart stoppingly good. Not sure if anyone in America is actually watching? 1 million of NZ's 4 million population tuned into Sunday's races. The Kiwi team has the whole country behind them, especially as they are competing against the huge resources of Oracle and Larry Ellison. Kiwis have an indomitable spirit and this along with the incredible talent on Emirates Team New Zealand will win the Cup for them.

I've noticed none of the US media reports mention that there is only 1 American on the Oracle team. The rest are Kiwis, Aussies and Brits. Why wouldn't Larry Ellison draw a team from his own country?

trancemoment
trancemoment

@JC7 would you donate some tax dollars to fund a sailboat?  NZ did.  USA would never go for that, so thank you larry ellison for fielding us a team.

MobileJoel
MobileJoel

@JC7 And one wonders why America is not watching Larry's Race?  SMH...