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New Zealand Sails Within One Race Of The America's Cup

Emirates Team New Zealand is within a single race of snatching the America's Cup from defenders Oracle Team USA, as the two giant catamarans square off in the waters off San Francisco for a 12th time.

The Kiwi boat edged out the Americans in Race 11 earlier on Wednesday, continuing an almost unbroken winning streak since the match races began. Team Oracle, backed by software billionaire Larry Ellison, needs to win eight races in a row to hold on to the Auld Mug, as yachting's oldest and most prestigious trophy is known.

Racing was canceled on Tuesday because of strong winds, but conditions on Wednesday were better for the delicate 72-foot vessels, which sport hard wings instead of traditional sails and use foils to lift their dual hulls out of the water. The boats, with a crew of 11, can achieve breathtaking speeds of 44 knots (50 mph).

Member station KQED in San Francisco has a good description of how the catamarans seemingly defy the laws of physics by going so fast. The teams have also been using supercomputers to model subtle changes to the boats that have tweaked even more speed from them on the course.

Reuters says:

"New Zealand dominated matches between the two teams in the first week of the America's Cup finals on San Francisco Bay, then lost momentum over the weekend when a vastly improved Oracle won its second and third matches, raising hopes of a last-minute comeback. Oracle, which lost six of the first seven races in the series, became far more competitive after making changes to its twin-hulled AC72 and has [been] greatly improving its upwind tacking."

The America's Cup, founded in 1851, began as a challenge between a vessel affiliated with England's Royal Yacht Squadron and the schooner America. America won the race handily, and the U.S. defended the trophy for the next 132 years, until Australia II became the first-ever challenger to win the race. Since then, it's been won by New Zealand and a syndicate from landlocked Switzerland.

Update At 6:15 p.m. ET. Race 12 Postponed Until Thursday:

KQED reports that the second race scheduled for Wednesday has been postponed because the wind had picked up beyond the 20-knot limit, "so they're done for the day."

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