Hamilton (Bermuda) (AFP)
Peter Burling and Emirates Team New Zealand, out to expunge the bitter memory of 2013, handed defenders Oracle Team USA two defeats Saturday to open the 35th America's Cup.
Burling, the Kiwis' 26-year-old helmsman, said there's plenty to improve on, but he praised his crew's poise in twice holding off the challenge of experienced skipper Jimmy Spithill, who is trying to bring the "Auld Mug" to America for a third straight time.
"I think it's no secret that to win the America's Cup you have to -- in our case -- win eight races," said Burling, whose Kiwis went into the first-to-seven points series one-down on the Americans thanks to Oracle's bonus point for topping the qualifying round-robin.
"We're really happy to get two races on the board early, but we're under no illusion ... it's going to get a lot harder than that -- and it was relatively hard today," Burling said.
Spithill did New Zealand a giant favor when he was seconds early across the startline in the first race.
Forced to drop back two boat lengths, the Americans couldn't recover as the Kiwi catamaran displayed impressive speed foiling in the light winds on Bermuda's Great Sound.
"We had a little issue on board at the first start. We actually thought we were coming back where we wanted to and as it turns out it's something we're going to have to go back and look at," Spithill said. "We basically just handed that one to them."
A late mistake saw New Zealand plunge off their foils and slow dramatically, but even that wasn't enough of a window for Spithill and New Zealand won by 30 seconds.
"It wasn't exactly our best maneuver," Burling said. "I think the really pleasing thing out of it is ... we still managed to get the job done no worries. I was really happy with the way the guys kept their composure today.
"It's been no secret the winds were really tricky out there for breeze shifts. In lighter air the boats are really hard to handle and if you make a small mistake it ends up being a really costly one."
Burling, the 26-year-old whose pre-start prowess was called into question during challenger qualifying, won the start of the second race and New Zealand steadily built their lead -- but there was to be late drama again.
The USA, down by 1:34 rounding mark four, were able to capitalize on a wind shift on the fifth leg to close within three seconds as they approached the fifth mark.
- 'Tough day' -
Team New Zealand held their nerve to round the mark in front and Oracle produced a sloppy jibe that saw them come off their foils, their bows ploughing into the water as New Zealand powered to a win by 1:28.
"It was obviously a tough day," Spithill said. "Clearly we weren't sailing at our best, but we also had our opportunities.
"But these guys (New Zealand) at the end of the day made fewer mistakes," Spithill added. "The good news is, we're only one back."
That one-point advantage certainly won't give Burling and New Zealand any sense of complacency.
Four years ago in San Francisco, a New Zealand team helmed by Dean Barker were 8-1 up and within one race win of victory when Team USA roared back for a 9-8 triumph in one of sport's greatest comebacks.
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