Peter Holmberg delivered a strong message that despite rumors to the contrary, all is well with Oracle.
Holmberg, along with Team New Zealand's Bertrand Pace, won all five of his races on opening day to make an early move toward his third win in four years in the match racing classic. Between fog banks that blanketed the course during a Southern California heat wave, the 40-year-old veteran from the U.S. Virgin Islands swept through Britain's Andy Green, Stars & Stripes' Ken Read, Denmark's Jesper Radich, France's Sebastien Destremau and Rod Davis, a U.S. native who lives in New Zealand and sails for Italy's Prada Challenge.
"I have to credit having [tactician] John Cutler on board," Holmberg said, referring to the New Zealander who joined Oracle after sailing Dawn Riley's America True entry in the last America's Cup. "Once you have confidence in your tactician, I can concentrate fully on driving."
Holmberg's most interesting wins were against Read and Davis, who are tied at 3-2. In managing the pre-start in the heavy Catalina 37s - the largest boats on the world match racing scene -- he drew a pre-start foul from Read, then another immediately after the start that forced Dennis Conner's A-Cup driver to do an immediate 270-degree penalty turn and left him in a hopeless hole still owing a second turn.
In the fifth and last flight of the day, Holmberg started at the favored pin end and went left as Davis went right from the committee boat. When they converged up the beat, Holmberg was able to cross easily on port tack and remained in control for the full two laps around the 0.38-mile windward-leeward course inside Long Beach's protected outer harbor.
Pace, ranked third in the world, had a harder road to 5-0. Against Read in the day's first match, the lead was swapped twice before the Frenchman won by four seconds. Then Pace had an even closer finish - two seconds -- against Morgan Larson (2-3), sailing for Seattle's OneWorld Challenge. Pace got a pre-start foul on Larson, who led throughout with Pace dogging his transom but didn't have quite big enough a lead to do his penalty turn at the finish line. Larson later said of the penalty, "It was fair."
Racing continues Thursday in the double round robin format followed by sailoffs on Sunday.
Results after 5 of 18 flights
Tie between Holmberg and Pace, 5-0
Tie between Read and Davis, 3-2
Tie among Pillot, Larson and Spithill, 2-3
Tie among Radich, Destremau and Green, 1-4