New Zealand closes to within one win of America's Cup

New Zealand closes to within one win of America's Cup
September 18, 2013, 2:15 pm
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New Zealand won Race 11 of the America's Cup by 15 seconds Wednesday and needs one more win to claim victory. (AP)

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Emirates Team New Zealand won Race 11 of the America's Cup by 15 seconds Wednesday to close within one victory of taking the oldest trophy in international sports from powerhouse Oracle Team USA.

The wind limit was exceeded in the afternoon, postponing Race 12 and New Zealand's chance to raise the the Auld Mug.

The Kiwis hold an 8-1 lead. Oracle Team USA, owned by software tycoon Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp., was docked two points going into the match following the biggest cheating scandal in the 162-year history of the America's Cup.

Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker controlled rival Jimmy Spithill at the start of Race 11 and led the whole way, building his lead on the crucial upwind third leg toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

Oracle had been sailing better on the course's only upwind leg but couldn't quite reel in the Kiwis on Wednesday. Team New Zealand led by 6 seconds at the second gate mark and extended it to 17 seconds at the third gate as it rounded back onto the downwind leg.

The Kiwis watched their lead of about 200 meters shrink to around 70 meters as the boats raced downwind on their foils, their hulls completely out of the water.

Neither crew had a good rounding of the fourth gate, yet the Kiwis sprinted first down the final reaching leg to the finish off at America's Cup Park on Pier 27-29. As usual, there were hundreds of flag-waving New Zealanders cheering them on.

The race began in about 17 knots of wind blowing against a 2-knot tide flowing out to sea. Racing was postponed Tuesday because of strong winds blowing against the ebb tide.

[REWIND: America's Cup races postponed]

Barker was at the helm in 2003 when hard-luck Team New Zealand was swept in five races by its former skipper, Russell Coutts, and Alinghi of Switzerland. The Kiwis had to drop out of two races with breakdowns.

Three years earlier, after Coutts had delivered Team New Zealand to a 4-0 lead over Italy's Luna Rossa, he handed the wheel to Barker for the final race, which the Kiwis easily won.

Coutts is now CEO of Oracle Team USA. In 1995, Coutts and the late Peter Blake led Team New Zealand to a 5-0 win over Dennis Conner off San Diego as the small island national claimed the Cup for the first time.

Now Barker needs just one more victorious sprint around San Francisco Bay to reclaim the silver trophy for the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.