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Oracle Team USA hits a wave after going past the windward marks during the fifth race of the America's Cup sailing event against Emirates Team New Zealand Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, in San Francisco. Emirates Team New Zealand won the race. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Oracle Team USA's meltdown on the America's Cup race course after taking a strong lead over Emirates Team New Zealand on Tuesday was so surprising and demoralizing that the team pulled out of the second race to "regroup."

"We're not going to go back and massage each other's egos, I can guarantee you that," skipper Jimmy Spithill told reporters after losing Race 5 of the best-of-17 series. "It's obvious we need to make some changes."

His comment raised speculation that crew members might be replaced, including tactician John Kostecki, a National Sailing Hall of Famer who grew up sailing in the San Francisco Bay.

"I can't guarantee anything," Spithill said. "I can't guarantee I'll be out there."

The crew on Emirates Team New Zealand wave to cheering spectators after winning the fifth race of the America’s Cup sailing event against Oracle Team
The crew on Emirates Team New Zealand wave to cheering spectators after winning the fifth race of the America's Cup sailing event against Oracle Team USA Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, in San Francisco. Emirates Team New Zealand won the race. At right is skipper Dean Barker. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) ( Eric Risberg )

He added that although he is the skipper, "You can be a rooster one day and a feather duster the next."

The New Zealand media quickly seized on Oracle's surprising and initially unexplained pull-out of Race 6, with Kiwi freelancer Mark O'Brien drawing a "Gone Fishing" cartoon on a picture of Oracle's 72-foot catamaran.

The American team owned by Silicon Valley billionaire Larry Ellison chose to play its singular "postponement card" after losing Tuesday's race instead of saving it for a possible equipment failure later in the regatta, Spithill said, because, "There's a real chance we weren't going to win the second race of the day."

With Oracle appearing disorganized and vulnerable on the race course, the chance that the defending champion could ultimately lose the Cup and send it back to New Zealand became a tangible reality.

Spithill, however, said, "We can win these races. We just need to be very smart."

Oracle's crew had called Tuesday a "must-win day." Because of a two-point penalty lodged before the America's Cup began, Oracle Team USA remains minus-1 on the scoreboard despite winning one race over the weekend. New Zealand has won four races and is up by five points. The Kiwis must win nine races to take the America's Cup back to Auckland. The Americans must win 11 to keep it here. Races 6 and 7 are Thursday.

On the race course Tuesday, Oracle started strongly, rounding the first mark four seconds ahead of New Zealand. The Americans held the Kiwis at bay as the teams sped downwind. Oracle was eight seconds ahead at the leeward mark when it made what Spithill called a "terrible tack."

The Oracle boat, which has not been tacking well in this series, came to nearly a dead stop as it rounded the mark, opening a clear path for New Zealand to zoom ahead. Oracle Team USA, with a stone-faced Spithill at the helm, crossed the finish line 1 minute, 5 seconds behind New Zealand.

"This is a shocking turn of events," commentator Tucker Thompson said as he watched the race. "It's really surprising that the braintrust of Oracle would have put themselves in the position they put themselves in."

Within minutes of the finish, Kostecki was calling race officials from on board, informing them that the team would use its postponement card and pull out of the second afternoon race. Later, TV cameras caught video of Spithill aboard a chase boat in deep conversation with Russell Coutts, CEO of Oracle Team USA and four-time winner of the America's Cup.

New Zealand skipper Dean Barker said his crew planned to take Wednesday off. And what will Oracle Team USA be doing on Wednesday's off day?

"We'll be out there tomorrow," Spithill said.

Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409.

34TH AMERICA'S CUP

Emirates Team New Zealand 4 points,
Oracle Team USA 0 points (-1)

Best-of-17 series or first team to 9 points
Thursday: Races 6 and 7, 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. 1 p.m. on KNTV
Saturday: Races 8 and 9, 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. 12:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network
Sunday: Races 10 and 11*, 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. 12:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network
Sept. 17: Races 12* and 13*, 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. 1 p.m. on KNTV
Sept. 19: Races 14* and 15*, 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. 1 p.m. on KNTV
Sept. 21: Race 16* and 17*, 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. 12:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network
* -- if necessary
NOTE: Because of penalties, Oracle Team USA began the America's Cup with minus-2 points, meaning it would need to win 11 races to retain the America's Cup. New Zealand needs to win nine. If necessary, Races 18 and 19 will be added to the schedule.