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SAILING

Oracle Gets First Victory

January 16, 2003|From Associated Press

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — San Francisco's Oracle sailed through shifting, tricky winds today for its first victory in four races in the America's Cup challenger series.

Facing the possibility of being within a defeat of elimination by Alinghi in the best-of-nine competition, Oracle won by 2 minutes 13 seconds.

The race start was delayed two hours by light winds. The fifth race is scheduled for Friday.

The winner of the series will face Team New Zealand next month for the Cup.

Oracle, headed by Larry Ellison, chairman and chief executive of Oracle Corp., moved ahead of Alinghi on the second leg, when the boats raced more than a half-mile apart. When they split tacks, Oracle picked up a favorable wind shift and moved ahead by 56 seconds.

After trailing at the first mark by 38 seconds, the leg resulted in an amazing 1:34 turnaround by Oracle.

With Oracle ahead at the halfway point of the six-leg, 18.5-nautical-mile race, all Alinghi could do was hope for more shifting winds.

"If it's an even breeze, we're dead," Alinghi strategist Jochen Schuemann was heard to say on his on-board television microphone.

But the winds stayed fairly steady for the last part of the race, and Oracle's lead was never threatened.

Alinghi tacked immediately after crossing the starting line, moving to the right-hand side of the course. It picked up some favorable wind and took a lead of more than 100 yards before Oracle pulled back and took a slender advantage.

But Alinghi, using information that tactician Brad Butterworth gleaned from watching sailboats in the spectator fleet, picked up another favorable shift. It retook the lead and held it at the first mark.

The first-mark lead would have been bigger, but Alinghi was sailing too close to the layline and had to tack just before reaching the mark.

Oracle returned the favor early in the second downwind leg, when a poor gybe caused the spinnaker to become twisted.

That caused the American boat to lose time.

But that was all made up minutes later when Oracle picked up a strong wind shift while Alinghi sailed into a windless hole.

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