First blood in America’s Cup goes to Oracle

Alinghi has its work cut out to win the America`s Cup for a third time AFP

Swiss sailing syndicate Alinghi has been soundly beaten in the first of three races in the 33rd America’s Cup by the challenger BMW Oracle.

This content was published on February 12, 2010 - 19:25

The original winning margin in what turned out to be a great anticlimax was ten minutes, five seconds, but Alinghi apparently bungled a 270-degree penalty turn at the finish and had to redo it.

The official margin was 15 minutes, 28 seconds, with the finish coming just before dusk.

The 27-metre boats – the trimaran USA 17 with its radical wing sail and the catamaran Alinghi 5 – eventually got down to business on Friday after a bitter two-and-a-half-year courtroom spat between two of the world's richest men.

After Race 1 was delayed on Monday and Wednesday, challenger BMW Oracle and two-time defending champion Alinghi sped south across the Mediterranean along the Spanish coast on a clear, cold day.

The fastest, most technologically advanced boats in the 159-year history of the America's Cup hit around 22 knots (40km/h) in just six or seven knots of wind.

When skipper Jimmy Spithill of Australia got the triple-hulled monster USA 17 cranked up, the windward hull flew some seven metres out of the water.

Starting blunder

Oracle, bankrolled by Silicon Valley billionaire Larry Ellison, zoomed into the starting box with its windward and centre hulls out of the water and Spithill steered straight at Alinghi. The Swiss wanted to sail in front of Oracle, but didn't have enough speed and both boats had to tack. Oracle raised a protest flag, and the umpire in a trailing boat concurred.

That meant Alinghi, funded and steered by Swiss biotech billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli, had to perform a 270-degree penalty turn at some point in the 64-kilometre race.

Ellison hopped off Oracle about 50 minutes before the start, apparently because of weight restrictions and light wind.

Spithill somehow stalled Oracle over the line early with less than 15 seconds before the starting gun, and Alinghi sprinted off the line. Oracle had to go back and restart, putting it well behind.

But Oracle’s 68-metre wing sail, bigger than the wing on the world's biggest passenger airliner, worked as the syndicate hoped it would and the Americans soon overtook Alinghi, building up a lead of about 1,200 metres approaching the end of the 20-mile first leg.

Courtroom drama

This is the first time multihulls have sailed against each other in the America's Cup, following bitter court fights over rules, dates and the venue between Ellison and Bertarelli.

And it has to be said that the legal spat was far more exciting than Friday’s action on the water.

The main problem is that sailing must be one of the least spectator-friendly sports in the world. Despite endless on-screen graphics, even the commentators struggled to work out what was going on at the start and why penalty flags had been raised. It was often impossible for viewers to work out which team was winning.

Another problem is that a two-hour race between only two boats soon becomes incredibly boring if one rushes to an early lead.

That aside, Oracle is now one win away from bringing the America's Cup back to the United States for the first time since Dennis Conner lost it to Team New Zealand in 1995.

Race 2 is set for Sunday and Race 3 for Tuesday, weather permitting.

Alinghi 5

Boat type: Catamaran of carbon composite construction

Builder: Alinghi-Décision in Villeneuve, canton Vaud

Sponsor: Société Nautique de Genève

Overall length: 27 metres

Waterline length: 27 metres

Mast height: 50 metres

Beam: 25 metres

Displacement: 12,000kg

Building time: More than 100,000 hours

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USA 17

Boat type: Trimaran built of carbon composite materials

Builder: Core Builders in Anacortes, Washington

Sponsor: Golden Gate Yacht Club

Overall Length: 30 metres

Waterline Length: 27 metres

Mast height: 58 metres

Beam: 27 metres

Displacement: 16,000kg

Building time: 150,000 hours

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America's Cup

The America's Cup is the oldest and most prestigious trophy in the sport of sailing. It is awarded to the winner of a series of regattas between the defender of the cup and the challenger.

The competition, held for the first time in England in 1851, was won by America, with a boat from the New York Yacht Club. The club held the cup for 132 years until it was beaten in 1983.

By defeating the defending champion, New Zealand, in 2003, Alinghi brought the trophy for the first time to Europe.

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