Switzerland's Alinghi team has drawn first blood in the battle for the 32nd America's Cup with a 35-second first-leg win over challenger Emirates Team New Zealand.This content was published on June 23, 2007 - 17:40
Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey was also in Valencia, Spain, on Saturday to lend her encouragement to the Swiss racing syndicate.
After fireworks and music opened the start, jet fighters screamed over the America's Cup rivals as they left the port past the Auld Mug, which was perched on a tall, divingboard-like structure over the water, into moderate wind and choppy sea conditions.
"It was a great race," Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth said. "The boats seem to have much the same speed."
The Swiss defender rounded the first marker with a 13-second lead after trailing the Kiwis out of the start on port, before stretching the lead to as much as 160 metres on the first downwind lap.
Though Emirates Team New Zealand narrowed Alinghi's lead to less than one boat-length on the second upwind lap after initiating a tacking duel, the SUI-100 yacht was faster over the final downwind beat as it held on to stay unbeaten in America's Cup racing with its sixth straight win, stretching back to its 5-0 sweep of the Kiwis in 2003.
Alinghi crossed the finish line 35 seconds ahead of the New Zealand challenger.
Butterworth said Alinghi got back to racing easily after two months on the sidelines as 11 crews fought it out for the right to challenge them for the Cup.
He said the team was pleased with the race, considering that "with the big waves it was difficult to get the boat settled."
"We'll now look at the mistakes we made and get ourselves as close to perfection as we can. I don't think we're there yet," he said.
The Alinghi skipper, who has won the last three America's Cups, was smiling broadly during the last few gybes as the crew put more blue water between them and the Kiwis.
"It was a tricky old day today, quite shifty," said Team New Zealand crew member Adam Beashel. "We feel we were right in it and we're ready to go again tomorrow."
The second flight of the best-of-nine series for sailing's most coveted prize is scheduled for Sunday.
During a press conference on Saturday, the Swiss president underscored the excellent relations between Switzerland and Spain. In her eyes, Alinghi represents a link between the two countries.
"The Spanish accept the Swiss team as their own," she declared.
With its team comprising over 20 different nationalities, Alinghi presents an image of a multinational Switzerland that has more to offer than just "cows, cheese and chocolate", Calmy-Rey commented.
In Valencia, the Swiss president also launched a promotional campaign by Presence Switzerland, the organisation responsible for selling Switzerland abroad.
swissinfo with agencies
The inaugural race was held off the Isle of Wight in 1851. America dominated the race right up until 1983 when Australia won the trophy.
In 1995 New Zealand became only the third country to win the competition, successfully defending their title in 2000.
The Swiss syndicate Alinghi sailed to victory against Black Magic in 2003 and became the first European team to win the Auld Mug.
The 2007 America's Cup off the coast of Spain is scheduled to take place from June 23 to July 7 at the latest.
Alinghi's international crew
Bowman: Pieter van Nieuwenhuyzen (Netherlands)
Midbowman: Curtis Blewett (Canada)
Mastman: Francesco Rapetti (Italy)
Pitman: Josh Belsky (United States)
Grinder: Mark McTeigue (Australia)
Grinder: Matt Welling (United States)
Trimmer: Simon Daubney (New Zealand)
Trimmer: Lorenzo Mazza (Italy)
Grinder: Will McCarthy (Australia)
Mainsail: Warwick Fleury (New Zealand)
Strategist: Murray Jones (New Zealand)
Pitman: Dean Phipps (New Zealand)
Grinder: Rodney Ardern (New Zealand)
Navigator: Juan Vila (Spain)
Afterguard: Ernesto Bertarelli (Switzerland)
Tactician: Brad Butterworth (New Zealand)
Helmsman: Ed Baird (United States)
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