SAN FRANCISCO -- A day after San Francisco 49ers fans got that sinking feeling when their team lost the Super Bowl, Larry Ellison's Oracle Team USA relaunched its newly-repaired boat Monday after a catastrophic capsize months ago while training for the super bowl of regattas -- the America's Cup.
"It's a big day for the team," Grant Simmer, general manager for Oracle Team USA, said. "It's getting sailing again, getting our boat in after the setback of the capsize."
The news comes the same day that one of Oracle's chief rivals, Emirates Team New Zealand -- which was able to sail its 72-foot catamaran a full 30 days without mishap -- showed just how far ahead it appears: While Oracle relaunched its old, repaired boat, their South Pacific rivals christened their new, improved second boat Monday in New Zealand's Hauraki Gulf.
Still, Simmer and the Oracle crew are confident they will make up the training time on the water, launch the team's second boat this spring and emerge triumphant this summer, when the America's Cup races begin in San Francisco.
Teams from New Zealand, Sweden and Italy will begin racing July 4 in the Louis Vuitton Cup on the bay for the right to take on defending champion Oracle, which won the Cup in 2010 and brought it to Ellison's home port. The America's Cup finals begin in September. The races will mark the first time in America's Cup history that spectators can watch the races from shore -- in the past the courses have been farther out to sea. Even competitors have marveled at how the natural amphitheater of the San Francisco Bay will make for great viewing of the races.
But Team Oracle has a lot of catching up to do. Not only did the Oracle boat capsize and break apart in strong winds after only eight days of sailing last fall, but the team was found guilty in December of spying on the Italian team by sending a photographer to shoot pictures too close to the competitor's boat. As a penalty, a panel of sailing judges ruled that Oracle will be forbidden from sailing the last week in April, meaning that Oracle will have to squeeze in the universally-allowed 45 days of training before then.
"It's critical for our program what we can achieve over these next 45 days," Simmer said.
Beginning in May, there is no limit on practice days -- and Oracle plans to be on the water every day while New Zealand and Italy are packing up their rigs and shipping them to California. The Swedish team, Artemis, is already based on the bay in Alameda.
Based on lessons learned from those eight days of sailing before the capsize, Oracle made a number of modifications to the repaired boat to make it better, Simmer said, including raising the middle platform so the crews can move around easier. All four teams are required to build and race AC72s -- 72-foot catamarans with the same fundamental design. Each team can modify the boats and build two of them, with one as a backup.
"We've made the best of what we could from the short amount of sailing," Simmer said. "It wasn't where we wanted to be, but we'll make the best of it."
Oracle is hoping to train on the water several days this week. Monday started out with light winds, which were expected to be much stronger by Thursday.
This time, Simmer said, "we'll be quite cautious."
Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409.