SAN FRANCISCO — For five heart-stopping seconds, Emirates Team New Zealand's 72-foot catamaran hung on the edge of catastrophe in the middle of an America's Cup race on San Francisco Bay.
The normally spot-on Kiwis rushed a tack during a close-quarters duel with defending champion Oracle Team USA and couldn't get their 131-foot wing sail to pop through to the correct side. The big catamaran began to tip over, its starboard hull rising high.
Skipper Dean Barker didn't know quite where the point of no return was, "But I'd say half a degree more would have been the number."
The boat paused, then the airborne hull splashed back down to the relief of both crews. Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill steered clear and sailed on to a 52-second win in Race 8.
It was just the second victory of the series for the American syndicate, which has now erased the two-point penalty it was assessed in the biggest cheating scandal in the 162-year-history of the America's Cup.
Team New Zealand leads 6-0 and still needs three wins to take the oldest trophy in international sports to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. Oracle needs to win nine races to keep the Auld Mug.
Race 9 was abandoned just as the boats turned onto the windward third leg with New Zealand in the lead. That's because the wind had exceeded the 22.6-knot limit during a five-minute period. Races 9 and 10 are scheduled for today.
After two defeats Thursday, Oracle made several changes to its boat and sailed much better upwind, where it had been failing.
"Mate, it is on," Spithill said. "This is the turning point. We've been saying it all along, that we can win races. It really felt the last few days that the Kiwis have been thinking about where to put the trophy and I can tell you we're going to fight the whole way."
Spithill, who was at the wheel when Oracle capsized its first boat during a training run in October, was relieved that the Kiwis didn't go over.
"Look, it was close to being a huge pileup. It would have been serious if I weren't able to bail out," Spithill said. "You never like to see that."
Barker said the crew tried to tack a split second too soon. It was a reminder of how dangerous the new boats can be when pushed to the limits.
"I think that's as close as you can ever possibly get before it would have ended up over on its side," Barker said.
If there is a capsize during competition, the race would be canceled so that both yachts' chase boats can aid in recovery efforts. Those boats carry divers and paramedics.
Had the boat capsized and been seriously damaged it could have been catastrophic for the Kiwis. They have another boat, but it was cannibalized for parts to finish their current boat.