Keeping Score

America’s Great Sailing Comeback Is Almost Complete

Drama, intrigue and some very fast boats at the America's Cup

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Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

Oracle Team USA skippered by James Spithill in action during race 17 of the America's Cup Finals in San Francisco, Sept. 24, 2013.

Any Americans feeling patriotic today might want to gather in front of a television set around 4 p.m.¬†Eastern time, and cheer for the super-rich CEO of a $37 billion tech company, whose sailing team is trying to complete the greatest comeback in the 162-year history of the world’s most prestigious yachting race.

What, this isn’t exactly a populist rallying cry? No matter; the America’s Cup is providing some of the best drama in sports. Oracle Team USA, backed by the software company’s founder and CEO Larry Ellison, trailed in the America’s Final, 8 races to 1, just last week. Team Oracle’s opponent, Emirates Team New Zealand, just needed to win one more race to claim the America’s Cup. The first team to nine wins. The Kiwis are still waiting.

The competition is now tied, 8-8, and will come down to a decisive Race 19.  The Americans have won seven straight races. Ah, is there anything better in sports than a Race 19?

(MORE: Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team USA Faces America’s Cup Defeat)

Okay, you might be doing some third-grade math right now, and wondering if we meant Race 17, because, you know, 8+8=16. So the next race must be Race 17, right? But you see, Team Oracle was docked two of its earlier wins, due to illegal boat modifications during warm-up regattas last year. (So Oracle has actually won 10 races, when you account for the negative integers.)

This America’s Cup has everything. There are high-tech boats, with twin hulls that fly over the San Francisco Bay and reach speeds up to 50 miles per hour, looking like space machines. There’s high drama (the New Zealand boat nearly capsized in one race). And there’s all kinds intrigue. During the first race on Tuesday, Team Emirates was penalized at the start, because its boat failed to clear a path for Team Oracle. The American squad protested, Team Emirates was grounded and never recovered. “Idiots,” an Oracle sailor shouted as his boat pulled away. (Though Oracle is an American-backed team, only two of its 23 sailors are American. The skipper, Jimmy Spithill, is from Australia. Seven sailors are from New Zealand. Ten New Zealanders compete for Emirates.)

On Tuesday, Ellison even skipped out on his company’s OpenWorld customer conference, which drew over 60,000 registrants, to attend the Oracle wins. He was supposed to talk about the growth of cloud computing at the conference. Blah blah blah, future of the world’s third-largest software company, who cares? Right now, it’s all about the boats.

(MORE: Somebody’s Knocking My Dreamboat)