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Alinghi keeps open house in Valencia

The Alinghi base in Valencia resembles a ship's hull

After winning the prestigious America's Cup, the Swiss Alinghi team has established a base in the Spanish port of Valencia and is preparing to defend the title in 2007.

Parts of the Swiss base – a showcase of design and high technology – are open to members of the public curious to learn the secrets of yacht racing.

Even before the competition itself gets underway in less than two years, the final of the 32nd America’s Cup – which will be held in Valencia – is becoming a contest of flair and design between the various contenders.

Each of the teams due to compete in yachting’s most important international competition is doing its best to make an impression.

The team of the software giant BMW-Oracle has planned the largest building of all, while the Italian Luna Rossa team has hired star architect Renzo Piano to get upwind of its rivals, at least where style is concerned.

Obviously, the Swiss Alinghi team, holder and defender of the coveted trophy, could not stand around and do nothing.

Ahead of the competition

For their base, they wanted to be first, not only in getting the building finished – several months ahead of their rivals – but also in terms of openness to the outside world, a significant factor in an environment normally rather closed and jealous of its secrets.

“Unlike other teams, Alinghi has always wanted to involve the public in its activities,” explains Janine Geigele, press officer for the Swiss team.

The Swiss base is an elegant rectangular structure, three storeys high and built of steel, in the commercial harbour of Valencia. As well as the boatsheds, the ground floor houses a spacious visitors’ area.

Alinghi is not just a sporting enterprise. It could best be described as a hub of applied technology, as is made clear in a visit to the Research Lab.

A series of television documentaries reveals some of the mysteries involved in planning and building a boat, a task for which Alinghi has teamed up with the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

Interactive adventure

In the next room, equipped as a cinema, footage of a race is projected on a giant screen.

To be viewed standing up, the images immerse the visitor in the frenetic activity of the boat’s crew, the effect heightened by splashes of water and gusts of wind emitted at intervals by a special machine.

Those who enjoy this kind of interactive adventure can experience it in even more concrete form, thanks to a simulator of the SUI 64 – the boat which carried Switzerland to victory in 2003.

Located in the water beside the base, it accommodates 11 visitors at a time. For a short while, they can experience the heady excitement of playing the parts of bowman, sewer, helmsman, tactician, headsail trimmer or skipper.

Out of bounds

However, only a select few are entitled to visit the upper storeys of the Swiss base.

Unless you are a guest of the team or a member of the exclusive Alinghi Carbon fan club, you have no hope of relaxing in the luxurious atmosphere of the VIP Lounge – furnished with comfortable sofas and state-of-the art flat screens – or watching the racing from the immense 600 m² roof terrace.

In addition to the areas open to visitors, the base houses a physiotherapy facility and a fitness centre equipped with about 50 exercise machines – not to mention a large number of offices, workshops and boatsheds, all top secret and under constant surveillance.

Only team members and technicians are admitted, so as to prevent the “spying” and leakage of information which, in a sport so technically sophisticated as sailing, could compromise Alinghi’s chances.

This cloak-and-dagger atmosphere surrounds the entire operation in Valencia and is bound to enhance the sense of excitement in the build-up to the competition.

swissinfo, Anna Passera in Valencia

The Alinghi base in Valencia comprises: sail room, boatsheds, gymnasium, medical facilities, offices, television studio, visitors’ area.
Designed by the Spanish architect José Maria Tomàs Llavador, the base is open to the public.
Dimensions: 69x36x14m.Cost: €7 million (SFr10.8 million).Usable area: 6891m² (inside and out) + a 2,484m² courtyard.

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