Sailing: Oracle skippers say they've put their issues behind them

SAN FRANCISCO — When all 11 boats line up Thursday for the first fleet race of this second round of the America’s Cup World Series, most eyes are likely to be on Oracle Team USA’s two entries for reasons that go beyond hometown loyalty.

The crowd may be looking for carryover drama from an Aug. 24 incident that saw Oracle skippers Russell Coutts and James Spithill at odds after Coutts ran out of room at the starting line, crashed one hull of his 45-foot catamaran into a staff boat and blamed Spithill for not providing an opening.

Spithill, however, says the two have put the incident behind them. And no, it didn’t take stern words from Oracle kingpin Larry Ellison or anybody else.

“We have to learn lessons from it and move forward. That’s what we’ve done and we’ll be better off for it,” said Spithill, who has said he did not see Coutts’s boat approaching in time.

Coutts got his revenge by beating Spithill one-on-one in the match race finals.

The two are key figures in Oracle’s defense of the America’s Cup in these same San Francisco Bay waters next summer on larger and faster 72-foot catamarans. Coutts is Oracle Team USA’s CEO; Spithill is expected to be at the helm when Oracle defends the cup he won in 2010.

In retrospect, Spithill said Wednesday, both men shared responsibility and both were disappointed because the crash effectively eliminated an Oracle boat from the fleet race competition.

“We had two Oracle

teams on the podium for the match racing,” Spithill said. “We could have had two for the fleet racing, but unfortunately that incident took Russell out.”

This week, Spithill has been talking of having a third Oracle skipper on the podium as well. Ben Ainslie, the British Olympic gold medalsist who is at the helm of JP Morgan BAR, is sailing independently now, but he is a big part of Oracle’s preparation effort for next summer’s main event.

While three other teams are competing for the right to challenge Oracle for the 2013 America’s Cup, the defending champion will have two boats on the water, pushing each other. Spithill will be in charge of one, Ainslie the other.

“Personally I crave the competition and for any of us, we’re only going to be as good as the guys around us that are pushing us,” said Spithill, who also has responsibility for selecting Oracle’s crew in next summer’s racing.

Five teams advance

Because of their 1-2 finish in the August match tournament, neither Oracle boat had to take part in Wednesday’s qualifying competition. Artemis Racing Red, the third-place team in August, also earned a bye.

That left eight teams competing for five spots in conditions foggier and choppier than those in August.

Advancing into Thursday’s quarterfinals were Team Korea, Energy Team (France), Emirates Team New Zealand, JP Morgan BAR and Artemis Red.

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