SAN FRANCISCO — Skipper Jimmy Spithill accelerated his 72-foot catamaran off the starting line and steered defending champion Oracle Team USA to its fifth straight win against Emirates Team New Zealand on Monday to stay alive in the America's Cup.
The 34-year-old Spithill and his brain trust of Olympic gold medalists — British tactician Ben Ainslie and Australian strategist Tom Slingsby — kept the American-backed boat ahead the whole way around the five-leg course on San Francisco Bay for a 33-second victory.
Oracle's remarkable comeback from what seemed like certain defeat has closed the Kiwis' lead to 8-6 and no doubt has all of New Zealand on edge.
Team New Zealand has been on match point since Wednesday, only to watch Spithill and Oracle's improved 72-foot catamaran sail ahead in a determined attempt to keep the oldest trophy in international sports.
Oracle Team USA, owned by software tycoon Larry Ellison, has won eight races. But it was docked two points for illegally modifying boats in warmup regattas called the America's Cup World Series, so it needs three more wins to keep the Auld Mug.
The regatta would be tied if Oracle hadn't been handed the harshest penalties in the 162-year history of the America's Cup. Besides being docked two points, Oracle wing sail trimmer Dirk de Ridder was disqualified from the regatta and replaced by 24-year-old Kyle Langford four days before the match started.
Because Race 16 was delayed a half-hour due to light wind, Race 17 was postponed until Tuesday. That gives the Kiwis another day to ponder what they need to do to avoid a collapse, and gives Oracle more time to keep refining its fast cat.
Race 18, if necessary, is scheduled for Tuesday.