USA scrambling in face of Kiwi yacht Cup dominance

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Rebecca BRYAN
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Hamilton (Bermuda) (AFP) - Skipper Jimmy Spithill says the five days until America's Cup racing resumes will be "the most important days of the campaign" for a Team USA left reeling by New Zealand after one weekend.

"I think it's pretty obvious these guys are faster and we need to make some changes," Spithill said after New Zealand, helmed by Peter Burling, beat Oracle twice on Sunday to complete a sweep of the first four races.

"Clearly we need to now put everything back on the table," Spithill said. "I think these next five days will be the most important five days of the campaign."

It was little consolation that the four wins gave New Zealand only a 3-0 lead in the first-to-seven points series -- thanks to Team USA's bonus for topping the standings in the qualifying round-robin.

That's a big enough deficit against a New Zealand catamaran that has consistently out-performed Oracle.

"I think there was a clear speed advantage," said Australian Spithill, who piloted Team USA to the America's Cup in 2010 and 2013.

Although Team USA beat New Zealand twice in qualifying, the Kiwis were able to squeeze more from their foiling catamaran as they battled through the challenger semi-finals and final -- while the defenders looked on from the sidelines.

Spithill vowed that from Monday to Friday the entire US team -- from boat builders, designers, engineers and crew -- would be working round the clock in a bid to catch up.

"Nothing will escape our eyes I can guarantee you that in these next five days," said Spithill.

Regatta rules restrict the changes that can be made.

But Spithill insisted there was still room to make useful adjustments to the complicated systems that control the space-age craft, and to "appendages" including the massive fixed-wing sails, rudders and the daggerboards that allow the boats to foil -- virtually flying with their twin hulls above the water surface.

"The up-side, for us, is there's a lot of technology out there now," Spithill said.

"There's a lot of camera angles, microphones, a lot of data that gets shared from both sides, really."

Asked if that meant Team USA might borrow some ideas from New Zealand, Spithill didn't balk.

"No idea is out of the question," he said. "Clearly you sometimes learn the most when you look across the fence."

The five day break is a boon, added Spithill, who noted that the team didn't have nearly that much time in 2013 when they were staring down defeat while trailing New Zealand 1-8 in San Francisco.

The Americans roared back to win 9-8, with British sailor Ben Ainslie playing a key role after he replaced John Kostecki as the team's tactician.

- Need to make changes -

Ainslie mounted a British bid for the Cup this year that ended in the challenger semi-finals, but Spithill indicated a crew change could again be up for discussion.

"We're a very candid group," he said. "It's quite clear we need to make some changes."

Burling is determined to use the five days to make sure Team USA are chasing a moving target.

"We're really excited about the challenge of the next five days, of taking the next step on our boat as well of pushing the performance," said the 26-year-old Kiwi, who has spoken repeated of the steep learning curve faced by all the teams racing the America' Cup catamarans.

"Today we sailed a lot of areas better than we did yesterday," Burling said Sunday. "But we also made a lot of mistakes. It felt like we were still a long way from where we could be."