The combination of Chris Dickson calling tactics, Peter Holmberg driving and a dash of luck gave Larry Ellison's Oracle BMW Racing its first win of the Louis Vuitton Cup Final in a wacky day on the Hauraki Gulf.
With the wind shifting through 60 degrees and puffs favouring one yacht over the other, Oracle BMW won by 2 minutes and 13 seconds and pulled to within 2 points, 3-1, of Ernesto Bertarelli's Alinghi Team.
The first team to five points advances to meet Team New Zealand in the 31st America's Cup Match, beginning Feb. 15.
The winds were light, between 7 and 11 knots, and the seas flat, which seem to favour Ellison's yacht from the Golden Gate Yacht Club in San Francisco. But yesterday's afterguard change has also helped the long, black America's Cup Class sloop.
Dickson stepped off the helm to call tactics and the trim of the boat. Holmberg, who had helmed Oracle BMW's USA-76 through most of the first two rounds and during most pre-starts, moved back behind the wheel full time, where his talents are best utilised.
The tandem nearly scored the team's first victory yesterday, but two penalty turns allowed the Russell Coutts-skippered Alinghi Team to win its third straight race of the finals and seventh straight against Oracle BMW.
Today, Alinghi had trouble handling the shifty and streaky conditions on the second run. Alinghi led around the first windward mark and, with the wind heading SUI-64, it was nearly laying the leeward mark.
Oracle BMW, to leeward and behind, should have been disadvantaged in the shift. But Oracle BMW rode a big puff of wind down the port layline to the leeward mark and into the lead. From there, Oracle BMW sailed a decisive race for an important victory.
The loss was Alinghi's fourth of Louis Vuitton Cup 2003 against 24 victories. Not only was it Alinghi's most lopsided loss of the challengers' series, it was also Coutts' biggest losing margin in 40 Louis Vuitton Cup races dating to 1992 in San Diego, Calif.
USA-76 Beat Alinghi (Sui-64) - Delta 02:13
Alinghi leads best-of-nine finals over Oracle BMW Racing by 3-1
Once again a lack of breeze meant a postponement as the race committee waited for the breeze to fill. But when the wind finally did come in, it was shifty making life very tricky for both teams.
The start was a quiet affair. Alinghi entered from the right and Oracle BMW on the left and a conventional dial-up between the two boats followed. As both boats held their position head-to-wind, both crews saw the left-hand side of the course as being the favoured side.
As the dial-up broke down, Oracle BMW, helmed by Peter Holmberg, fell away onto port while Alinghi, helmed by Russell Coutts, bore away onto starboard. For a few precious moments, Holmberg looked to be in a precarious position. Seconds later Alinghi protested Oracle BMW, but the umpire flew a green flag in response as the port-tack San Francisco boat managed to sneak across the bow of the Swiss boat.
On the lead back into the start the boats were well separated, Oracle BMW up to weather and looking early, Alinghi further to leeward. But as the starting gun fired, both boats were perfect on the line and at the pin end.
As Oracle BMW headed out towards the 'favoured' side of the course Alinghi had to tack away onto port and head out towards the right-hand side. Once Alinghi had tacked back onto starboard, the breeze swung slightly to the right and sent the Swiss team into the lead.
Alinghi rounded the windward mark and was almost laying the leeward mark on port jibe. Oracle BMW, 38 seconds behind, saw more wind closer to the shore, jibed away to a difficult position and found the pressure to sail through to the lead, rounding the leeward mark 56 seconds ahead.
By the second windward mark Oracle BMW had maintained their lead but they took their biggest leap ahead on the second downwind leg, where they stretched the delta to 2:34, a margin that proved too difficult for Alinghi to challenge.