SAN FRANCISCO – Maybe Jimmy Spithill isn't delusional after all.
Maybe his Team Oracle USA can navigate back from the brink and hold on to the America's Cup.
On yet another day of what might have been for Emirates Team New Zealand, Oracle foiled the Kiwis' chance to clinch the cup with the help of Mother Nature and their own sailing acumen.
Stymied twice before when leading races by excessive winds, the Kiwis were undone Friday by light breezes and saw their massive lead erased with less than a nautical mile to go when they were unable to complete the 12.4-mile course under the 40-minute time limit.
The time ceiling comes into play when winds are weak and deemed insufficient to provide a fair trial for the teams.
"Sometimes it's not meant to be," said New Zealand skipper Dean Barker, who called a day when fog rolled in across San Francisco Bay and racing winds were sometimes as low as 7 knots "very frustrating."
When Race 13 was redone in more favorable conditions 30 minutes later, the Americans stormed to win by nearly a minute and a half.
New Zealand still holds a commanding 8-3 lead and needs just one more victory to bring the Auld Mug back to Auckland.
Spithill knew his team had caught a break, but the hyper-competitive sailor wasn't offering any apologies.
"I mean, what can you do?" he said on TV while sitting aboard the high-tech 72-foot catamarans, which for the first time in the regatta struggled to rise up on their foils during the slow-paced first race. "Sometimes a couple of things go your way. We're going to take it."
Oracle's tactician, the four-time Olympic gold medalist Ben Ainslie of Great Britain, was more empathetic.
"We felt very lucky," Ainslie said later. "But we also felt for the Kiwi guys because I think we've all been in that situation where you've got half the hand on the trophy."
Oracle, owned by Silicon Valley billionaire Larry Ellison, must win six consecutive races after starting the competition two races in the hole from a cheating penalty. But it has now won four of the last six.
Races 14 and 15, if necessary, are Saturday.
In the aborted race, Oracle managed a better start and had a 10-second lead at the first mark but New Zealand caught what wind was available in tricky conditions and simply sailed away. At one point they led by about 1,500 meters.
The second time around the Kiwis forged a 3-second lead at the first mark. But a right-of-way penalty and a slow turn near mark two as New Zealand peeled off – a decision tactician Ray Davies later admitted was the wrong decision – put Oracle in a favorable position that it would not relinquish.
The Kiwis have now been stuck one win shy of the nine needed to reclaim the cup since Wednesday.
Despite the excruciating situation, Barker, 41, did not quibble about the time-limit rule, which is in place to satisfy racing conditions as well as broadcast and other commitments.
"It would have been nice to have another 10 minutes," Barker smiled, calling the conditions on San Francisco Bay volatile and highly unusual. "I think there is a very good reason for a time limit. It's frustrating to be on wrong side of it, but we knew it existed."
He was disappointed if not down spirited as his nation of 4.4 million wait with bated breath to hold the cup for the third time and first in a decade.
"We know that we can easily get this done, and it's just a case of going out there tomorrow and racing hard," Barker said.
By contrast, the upbeat, ginger-haired Spithill carried added lift in his step and more self-assurance – if that were possible -- in his team's ability to surge back and win.
"The fact that we are at match point," said the 34-year-old Spithill, "it's almost like we get the best out of people when they're under that sort of pressure."
If Oracle can pull it off, it would an unprecedented comeback in the annals of the 162-year-old competition, the longest running international contest in sport.
As the 34th America's Cup stretches into its third weekend, Spithill said fatigue would not be an issue and appeared unlikely to alter his team, which has been intact since he replaced tactician John Kostecki for Ainslie following Race 5.
What have ratcheted up are tensions.
New Zealand native Barker and Australia's Spithill already share their countries' long history of sporting antipathy. They acknowledged that those feelings have mounted as the series has tightened.
Spithill called it a "battle" in which both skippers "want to kill each other."
"It's your normal New Zealand-Australian rivalry," said Barker.
Barker knows the stakes. He was been part of sailing-crazed New Zealand's winning campaign in 2000 as well as the humbling 2003 defeat.
He's seen his share of time-limit abandonments, but rarely with so much on the line.
"It's hard to remember one that is going to be quite as big a deal as this one is," he said.