By Greg Stutchbury
AUCKLAND (Reuters) - A collective intake of breath and cries of anguish resonated around the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS) as almost 500 people watched in horror at the sight of the challengers almost capsizing in race eight of the America's Cup.
"Astonishing. The old heart stopped and I was thinking, was it going to go over or not?" RNZYS vice-commodore Andy Anderson told Reuters of the dramatic footage from San Francisco Bay that showed the Team New Zealand boat almost flipping over.
"That was one lucky team. If that went over that could have been the end of the America's Cup."
The error handed the advantage to the Oracle Team USA defenders, backed by technology billionaire Larry Ellison's Oracle Corp, with skipper Jimmy Spithill sailing to their second victory of the regatta.
"We had one tack, which was a routine tack, and we didn't get the hydraulics. If the wing doesn't tack and the boat does you end up in the drink," New Zealand skipper Dean Barker said in a televised interview shown on three big screens at the club.
"Fortunately the boat came back up and there was no collision with the other guys."
Many in the yacht club nestled at the foot of the Auckland Harbour Bridge in New Zealand's largest city held their breath, aware that a capsize would have ended their chances of reclaiming the America's Cup.
The day had begun with optimism as club members began trickling in just after 0700 local time (3 p.m. ET), mindful the racing syndicate needed just three wins to take the trophy.
The gear of the Team New Zealand supporters was prominent while several harked back to the successful 1995 challenge and wore the 'lucky red socks' favored by then-syndicate head Peter Blake.
The only defeat in 1995 came when Blake, and his socks, were off the boat.
The club housed the trophy for more than eight years from 1995 until 2003 and sitting on a mezzanine balcony overlooking the main room stands an older version of the Louis Vuitton Cup.
It is where the America's Cup will rest should it return to New Zealand, though after the near-capsize in race eight no-one was prepared to start thinking like that just yet.
"At the moment it's one race at a time," Anderson added. "As we saw today it could have been all over in a flash."
A sense of hope circulated around the room again when news filtered through that the ninth race would go ahead with Team New Zealand reporting little discernible damage.
A raucous bellow erupted when Barker outfoxed Spithill in the start box and grabbed a lead at the first mark.
Applause echoed when New Zealand rounded the bottom mark with a lead and a massive cheer went up when it tacked in front of Oracle on the upwind leg with boat speeds in excess of 30 knots.
Seconds later, however, there was a sigh of despair which sucked the atmosphere out of the room as strong winds forced a cancellation of the day's racing.
"We won't get too far ahead," Anderson said. "We have got three more races to get, Oracle have nine and they will take a big boost out of today but from our point of view let's just get through the next three races."
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)