SAN FRANCISCO -- Russell Coutts seemed well on his way to successfully opening the defense of his match race title Friday at the America's Cup World Series.

A sly move by the veteran skipper at the starting line appeared to lead to an easy wire-to-wire win for Oracle Team USA over Artemis Racing Red. But officials ruled Coutts' 45-foot catamaran took a shortcut along the course and gave the victory to the Swedish boat with Nathan Outteridge at the helm.

The problem developed when Coutts didn't differentiate between a committee boat and the actual boat used to mark the end of the fourth leg of the course. That caused him to turn too soon around the wrong boat.

"We were confused," Coutts said. "It looked as though it was the right boat to us, but it wasn't. I don't even know why the race committee had that boat there."

As it turned out, the second boat was being positioned for the next race. Outteridge acknowledged the situation gave his crew pause, but he made the correct decision.

"We knew where the mark was because there was a flag there," Outteridge said, "and we were checking because it looked like there were two boats in the rough spot."

Coutts' starting-line strategy forced Artemis Racing Red to take a penalty for barely touching the Oracle boat. After falling behind and later struggling to repair one of the sails, Outteridge said he simply wanted to finish the race without serious damage.

Which is why he said he was surprised when his boat eventually crossed the finish line and the gun went off that designates the winner in each race.

"We were pretty sure he was a fair ways in front of us," Outteridge said. "We got lucky on that one, and it's much better to be lucky than good."

Oracle Team USA fared better in Friday's other match race as skipper Jimmy Spithill advanced to the semifinals by eliminating J.P. Morgan BAR with Ben Ainslie at the helm.

That sets up Saturday afternoon's semifinals with Artemis Racing Red facing Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA Spithill going against Artemis Racing White.

The match race title will be decided in Saturday's final event.

  • Ainslie continued his strong performance in the fleet competition with first- and second-place finishes in Friday's two races.

    Ainslie finished just ahead of Artemis Racing White with skipper Terry Hutchinson in the first race Friday, and the two boats traded places in the second.

    Neither Oracle boat fared particularly well Friday as Spithill managed sixth- and fifth-place finishes while Coutts wound up fourth and seventh.

    The standings: J.P. Morgan BAR 43 points, Artemis Racing White 34, Artemis Racing Red 32, Oracle Team USA Spithill, 29, Emirates Team New Zealand 27, Energy Team 25, Oracle Team USA Coutts 25, Luna Rossa Piranha 20, Team Korea 16, China Team 11 and Luna Rossa Swordfish 6.

  • America's Cup boats often have guest sailors on board, and Friday that was Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin's role with Emirates Team New Zealand.

    The Bay Area native said before the race that she was told to "be quiet, don't get in the way and hold on for dear life."

    Coughlin, 30, said it was actually peaceful zipping across the bay, watching the sunset while "these amazing athletes do all the work for me."

    In August, Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson was a guest racer and ended up falling overboard. Coughlin said no one seemed worried if she did the same.

    "They knew I was competent enough that it wouldn't be a problem," she said.