USA sails to big opening win in America’s Cup
VALENCIA, Spain – The monster trimaran USA delivered a huge victory for challenger BMW Oracle Racing against two-time defending champion Alinghi of Switzerland in the dramatic first race of their bitter America’s Cup showdown on Friday.
Owned by Silicon Valley maverick Larry Ellison and steered by Jimmy Spithill of Australia, the black-and-white USA literally flew over the Mediterranean Sea along the Spanish coast on Friday, powered by a radical, 223-foot wing sail.
USA recovered from a blunder at the start to rout the equally immense catamaran Alinghi 5. The original margin was 10 minutes, 5 seconds, but Alinghi apparently bungled a 270-degree penalty turn at the finish and had to redo it. The official margin was 15:28, with the finish coming just before dusk on a cold, clear day.
BMW Oracle Racing, sponsored by San Francisco’s Golden Gate Yacht Club, is 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.
“To be the America’s Cup champion you have to win two races not one. We’ll see what happens in two days now,” Ellison said of Race 2 on Sunday. “I’m confident in our team. But Alinghi has got a great team and it’s all on – on Sunday – and knowing that team they’re going to be working extra hard.”
With its windward and middle hulls flying out of the air, USA provided a thrilling start to a regatta that had been stalled by a bitter, 2 1/2-year court fight between two of the world’s richest men.
This is the first time multihulls have sailed against each other in the America’s Cup, the byproduct of a court fight over rules, dates and the venue between Ellison, the Oracle Corp. CEO, and Swiss biotech mogul Ernesto Bertarelli.
Bertarelli steered Alinghi 5. Ellison hopped off USA and into a chase about 50 minutes before the start, apparently because of weight restrictions and light wind. Ellison watched the race with syndicate CEO Russell Coutts, then jumped aboard USA for the ride back into the harbor. Coutts, a three-time America’s Cup winner, has said he won’t sail unless his presence somehow makes USA go faster.
After Friday’s performance, it looks fast enough.
“The difference was the speed of boats,” Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth said. “The solution they have come up with on Oracle is very fast. It’s pretty hard to beat them on a day like today.”
Each of the powerhouse sailing teams made a mistake in the dramatic first few minutes.
USA zoomed into the starting box with its windward and center hulls out of the water, on favored starboard tack, and Spithill steered straight at Alinghi 5. The Swiss wanted to sail in front of USA, but didn’t have enough speed and both boats had to tack. USA raised a protest flag, and the umpire in a trailing boat concurred, penalizing the Swiss and sticking them with a 270-degree turn.
Spithill somehow stalled USA over the line early with less than 15 seconds before the starting gun, and Alinghi 5 sprinted off the line ahead. USA had to go back and restart, leaving it 660 meters behind.
USA’s wing sail worked like the syndicate hoped it would and the Americans slowly overtook Alinghi 5 as the boats sailed into the wind. USA led by 3:21 at the windward mark. Sailing with the wind on the 20-mile run to the finish, USA opened a lead of more than two miles.
The fastest, most technologically advanced boats in the 159-year history of the America’s Cup, they hit approximately 22 knots in just 6 or 7 knots of wind.
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