By Jonathan Weber and Noel Randewich
SAN FRANCISCO, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Unusual winds continued to dog the America's Cup on Friday - but this time, the problem was not enough breeze.
After a week that saw multiple race cancellations for excessive wind, Friday's first race featured exceptionally light air, and Emirates Team New Zealand appeared to be on the brink of taking the Cup as it opened up a huge lead over Oracle Team USA.
But the race was abandoned when New Zealand failed to make it across the finish line within the 40-minute time limit set for the race. It was a cruel blow for the Kiwis, who have been one win away from taking the series since Wednesday.
A second race was scheduled for Friday afternoon.
Oracle, backed by billionaire Larry Ellison, stayed alive in the regatta on Thursday, winning one race before a second scheduled match was called off due to a strong winds and outgoing tide on San Francisco Bay.
Friday's weather was vastly different than what has been seen throughout the summer or racing. The skies were overcast, fog drifted in through the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay was almost glassy as the race got underway.
Oracle won the start as the two boats appeared to drift to the first mark, but New Zealand made a better maneuver to capture what wind there was and quickly opened up a huge lead.
But is was all for naught as the time limit wound down, and the race was called with New Zealand still far from the finish line.
The wind limit rule had led to five race cancellations since the America's Cup finals began two weeks ago, and the two teams bickered about raising the limit after Thursday's postponement.
A fatal training accident earlier this year prompted the teams to agree to a series of changes including a substantial decrease in the wind limits, but the boats have since proven resilient and many observers now believe they are too low.
The Kiwis dominated matches between the two teams in early races in the America's Cup best-of-17 finals and now holds an eight to two lead.
But Thursday's race suggested the momentum could be shifting once again as Oracle showed the speed, tactics and boat handling it needs to match the polished Kiwi team.
Ellison's team won the America's Cup in Valencia, Spain in 2010 and with it the right to set the rules for this year's competition, including choosing to race on the AC72s and to hold the regatta on windy San Francisco Bay.
The Kiwis first won the America's Cup in 1995 and successfully defended it in 2000 before losing the trophy three years later to Swiss biotechnology billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli's Alinghi in a disastrous campaign that left the team in shambles.