Swiss America's Cup challenge raises anchor

Coutts (left) and Bertarelli pose in front of their new training boat Keystone

Switzerland's eye-catching challenge to win sailing's greatest prize, the America's Cup, has passed an important milestone, with the crew unveiling their first training boat and announcing their new name: Team Alinghi.

This content was published on May 11, 2001 - 15:08

"Alinghi is a name which has always brought me luck," said the team's billionaire president Ernesto Bertarelli at a high-profile press launch. All of Bertarelli's previous racing yachts have borne the same name.

"This is an important moment, when the team can come together in an America's Cup class boat. It gives us a platform on which we can train," Bertarelli told swissinfo.

The sleek black and red training vessel, known for now as SUI-59, is a modified version of Switzerland's last America's Cup challenger, which was known as "Be Happy". The fast hull was largely retained during the overhaul at the Decision boatyard in Vevey, but the double keel that made Be Happy famous has been discarded.

In the 500 days until the Louis Vuitton Cup, the qualifying competition for the America's Cup, the Alinghi team will have to build two more boats and get their teamwork running like a Swiss watch.

"We have been working to develop team spirit. In the end that will make the difference between winning and losing," Bertarelli says. However, he points out that "you cannot win the America's Cup with only passion".

"We are starting to harness the skills of all these creative minds," he adds.

Multinational dream team

With that in mind, Bertarelli and skipper Russell Coutts have assembled a multinational dream team. The 85-strong Team Alinghi includes 26 sailors, 12 designers and 26 builders, hailing from 13 different nations.

At the core are six members of the New Zealand team that claimed the last two America's Cups. Indeed, Coutt's defection to the Swiss camp has caused a great deal of animosity in his native land.

Matters came to a head last year when the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron questioned whether landlocked Switzerland should even be allowed to enter a team.

America's Cup rules state that the challenging club, in this case, the Société Nautique de Genève, must hold a regular regatta "on the sea, or an arm of the sea". The SNG only held its first such regatta after it had submitted its challenge, but an arbitration panel accepted it nonetheless.

Now, Team Alinghi - which includes the German triple Olympic gold medallist, Jochen Schümann, top designers Grant Simmer from Australia and Rolf Vrolijk from Holland and former Team New Zealand tactician Brad Butterworth - can turn their attention to training and competition.

"It's about time we started concentrating on sailing again," said Coutts.
His crew will move to the southern French resort of Séte where they will conduct training, before taking part in the Cowes Week regatta in Britain.

A Swiss challenge?

The multinational nature of the team has led some to suggest that it is hard to describe this as a Swiss challenge.

"The boat is Swiss, it was built in a Swiss yard, the majority of the people who have worked on the boat are Swiss and it is representing a Swiss yacht club. Most importantly, when we're at the starting line in Auckland, we'll be flying the Swiss flag," Bertarelli says.

In order to spread the word and raise sailing's profile in Switzerland, the team has organised an Alinghi Swiss tour, which will involve five regattas this summer. These will take place on Lakes Geneva, Lugano, Thun, St Moritz and Neuchatel.

Despite this, sailing at its very highest level is a sport for the ultra-rich. There are no fewer than four billionaires vying for the right to race against Team New Zealand.

Bertarelli is ploughing SFr 55 million into his dream, while the main sponsors, the Swiss bank UBS and the California-based infonet, are contributing an undisclosed amount.

The goal is an ambitious, and one that has never before been attained: "We want to be the first team to bring the America's Cup to Europe," says Coutts.

by Roy Probert

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