America's Cup sailors have social media #battleofbermuda

HAMILTON, Bermuda (AP) The #battleofbermuda is on, mates.

The America's Cup has jumped fully into the 21st century, from the space-age catamarans that lift up on hydrofoils and fly across the waves to the use of social media for some smack talk between sailors in the days before two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA and challenger Emirates Team New Zealand meet in the 35th America's Cup starting Saturday on the Great Sound.

Skipper Jimmy Spithill, who is looking to win the America's Cup for the third time before he turns 38, started with an Instagram post of a cartoon of a bald eagle in an American flag motif digging its talons into a surprised kiwi bird, accompanied by the hashtag #battleofbermuda.

Blair Tuke, a crewman on Emirates Team New Zealand, responded with a cartoon of a gassed-looking bald eagle failing to keep up with a trim kiwi speeding away on a bicycle.

Both cartoons were drawn by San Francisco artist Elena Achilli, the first one apparently after Spithill skippered Oracle Team USA to one of the greatest comebacks in sports by winning eight straight races after being down 8-1 in 2013 on San Francisco Bay to retain the oldest trophy in international sports.

The kiwi on a bike is a reference to Team New Zealand's innovative grinding system in which it has replaced traditional coffee-grinder winches with stationary bikes to tap the grinders' leg power instead of arm power. There are four cycling stations on each hull. During tacks and gybes, the cyclists unclip, run across the trampoline to the other hull and clip back in, powering the hydraulic systems that control the wingsail and raise and lower the daggerboards.

The New Zealand Herald's Rod Emmerson entered the scrum with a cartoon of a Kiwi dismembering an eagle, with the caption: "Looks like a bald eagle ... talks like a parrot ... tastes like a kangaroo."

That's a reference to Spithill being Australian, as are other key decision-makers on the crew of Oracle, which is owned by American software billionaire Larry Ellison.

Smack talk is hardly new in the America's Cup.

In 1986, Dennis Conner accused the Kiwis of cheating when they built a 12 meter out of fiberglass.

In 1988, after turning back New Zealand's rogue challenge with his catamaran defense, Conner engaged with some unpleasantness as a news conference ended, telling Kiwi boat designer Bruce Farr: "Get lost. You're a loser. Get off the stage."

And then there was Ted Turner, who earned the nicknames "Mouth of the South" and "Captain Outrageous" en route to successfully defending the America's Cup for the New York Yacht Club in 1977 in Newport, Rhode Island.

Spithill is a fierce competitor off the water as well as on it. He excels at playing mind games at news conferences. In 2013, after Oracle had fallen behind 7-1, he was asked what still motivated him.

His answer crushed then-Kiwi skipper Dean Barker, who looked as if he'd seen a horrible apparition.

"I think the question is, imagine if these guys lost from here?" Spithill said, glancing at Barker. "What an upset that would be. They have almost got it in the bag. So that's my motivation. That would be one hell of a story, that would be one hell of a comeback and that's the kind of thing that I'd like to be part of. ... That's our motivation going into the rest of the series. We feel we have got just as much chance to win this and we're going to do everything we can."

The Kiwis won one more race to reach match point at 8-1, and then suffered one of the greatest collapses in sports as Spithill staged one of the biggest comebacks.

Spithill took a few digs at the Kiwis on June 3 after Oracle clinched a bonus point for the match. It's actually a negative point for Team New Zealand, which needs to win eight races to get the Auld Mug back into the trophy room at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, where it resided from 1995-2003. Oracle needs to win seven races.

Spithill said the Kiwis made "some pretty fundamental mistakes" in losing both races to Oracle in the round-robins, and that Oracle's boat sets up better than the Kiwis' boat

He then upstaged Kiwi helmsman Peter Burling when, asked if he knew who Team New Zealand would pick for its opponent in the challenger semifinals, said: "From the leak I've got in their team, they're picking Ben Ainslie Racing."

The #battleofbermuda indeed.

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Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson

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