2013-09-26 / Around Town

Oracle Rallies to Hold on to Cup

By Tom Shevlin

A victory wave to fans. (Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP) A victory wave to fans. (Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP) Larry Ellison’s Oracle Racing Team pulled off an unprecedented come from-behind victory in the waters of San Francisco Bay, capping off what turned out to be a rollickingly captivating America’s Cup finale.

Down 1-8 and facing certain defeat at the hands of a skilled New Zealand Team Emirates, skipper Jimmy Spithill’s Oracle crew managed to win eight straight races – including a final winner-take-all matchup that had the city’s sailing community glued to their laptops and perched at the end of their barstools.

America’s Cup commentator and Newport resident Ken Read described the victory as “a true team effort.”

And while the champagne may still be effervescent, local Cup enthusiasts are already holding out hope that Team Oracle will be bringing the Cup back to Newport as part of a U.S. victory tour.

Oracle Team USA takes the podium in San Francisco during the 34th America's Cup. (Photo by Giulia Capponetto/Oracle Team USA) Oracle Team USA takes the podium in San Francisco during the 34th America's Cup. (Photo by Giulia Capponetto/Oracle Team USA) At the Jane Pickens, which hosted a special live screening of the race, a crowd of about 200 people packed the theater to watch the action live on the big screen.

Cheers erupted from the audience throughout the race as Oracle looked to maximize every bit of the 18-20 knot winds that filtered onto the race course, posting boat speeds that topped out at 40 knots.

Whatever your opinion is of the revamped competition, the design of the boats, or the choice of venue, after the race there was no denying the sheer spectacle that Ellison masterminded.

“There’s a lot of us, and I was one of them, who were pretty critical of the racing earlier this summer," said Sail Newport’s Brad Read, who knows a thing or two about sailing.

Leading into the finals, he said, the competition “just didn’t resonate with anyone. There were a lot of people who were second guessing, third guessing, fourth guessing,” he added.

In other words, Read said, once you strip away the carbon fiber sails, foiling hulls, and kevlar-clad crew, great sailing comes down to one simple ingredient: competition.

“All they needed was competition to make these insane boats incredibly cool, to make it relevant, and to make people tune in and go down to the wharves,” said Read, who is also playing a centeral role in planning the scheduled stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race in May of 2015.

And while Newport may have lost out to Ellison’s hometown San Francisco for the right to host the final series, the longtime home to the Cup was still well represented.

In addition to the on-air presence of Ken Read, Newporter Rome Kirby held the distinction of being the only American-born crew on the winning boat, serving as the off-side trimmer.

Kirby, who is one of the sport’s brightest young stars, is the son of six-time America’s Cup veteran Jerry Kirby, a principal at Kirby Perkins Construction.

Several other team personnel also have close ties to Newport and with a second straight U.S. defense now assured, it’s expected U.S. local advocates that the case will be made to include Newport on some level as organizers begin planning for the next America’s Cup.

Incidentally, Sept. 25 has been historically kind to defenders, who have won the Auld Mug three times on the date. The first such victory came in 1934 when Rainbow defeated Endeavour by 55 seconds to win the Cup 4-2 in six races. In 1962, Weatherly, which is home-ported in Newport, beat out Gretel in five races, while in 1980, the U.S. team on board Freedom once again closed out an Aussie challenge, sending Australia to a 4-1 defeat.

This year’s race may have topped them all.

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