Team NZ take America's Cup lead

Bernie Wilson
AAP
1 / 2

Team NZ take America's Cup lead

Team NZ take America's Cup lead

In light, shifty winds on the turquoise waters of the Great Sound, Peter Burling and Emirates Team New Zealand made fewer mistakes than Australian skipper Jimmy Spithill and Oracle Team USA in winning the first two races of the 35th America's Cup.

It wasn't the cleanest start to sailing's biggest regatta, leaving more questions than answers as both teams headed back to their bases to pore over data and figure out where they need to sharpen up.

Although they won twice, by 30 seconds and 1 minute, 28 seconds, the Kiwis only lead 1-0.

Oracle earned a bonus point for winning the qualifiers, but it was actually a negative point for the Kiwis, so the first-race win merely erased that.

That means they need to win eight races total to spirit the Auld Mug back to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in Auckland, where it resided from 1995 until 2003.

Oracle need to win seven to keep the silver trophy in the hands of American software billionaire Larry Ellison.

"We're under no illusions," said Kiwi Burling, 26.

"All the people in the shed back at the base are already going over the boat and trying to get little bits of speed to start throwing at these guys."

Other than the Kiwis remaining fast in light conditions, there's not much of a conclusion to draw yet.

Still, this wasn't the start the powerhouse Oracle squad expected.

"It was obviously a tough day," Spithill said.

"Clearly we weren't sailing at our best. But we had our opportunities. We had our chances, but these guys made fewer mistakes. The good news is, we're only one back."

Burling, who has won Olympic gold and silver medals with grinder Blair Tuke, again appeared unflappable. He is an America's Cup rookie.

Spithill is trying to win his third straight America's Cup before he turns 38.

For a few dramatic minutes, it looked like Spithill was going to salvage a split of Saturday's races.

The American-backed crew benefited from a wind shift sailing upwind on leg five in the second race and made up a huge deficit, pulling right behind the Kiwis sailing through the gate mark.

But its 50-foot catamaran came off its foils during a bad gybe and buried its bows in the water, allowing the Kiwis to speed back ahead and open a lead of more than 300 yards.

Spithill thinks the splashdown was caused by a problem with one of the rudders.

The low-key Kiwi crew shook hands after crossing the finish line of the second race just off the America's Cup Village on the site of a former Royal Navy base.

Spithill told his crew: "Hang in there."

Races three and four are scheduled for Sunday.