Yachting fans the length of the Riviera beat a path down the coast to Valencia in Spain for the 33rd America’s Cup last week.
Named after the yacht ‘America’, which won the first challenge race in 1851, the race is one of the most prestigious and well-known in the world. Each year’s event is hosted by the victors of the previous year, and they have the advantage of setting out their own rules.
The two multihulls competing this year were bigger and faster than ever before. Redesign in the world of high-specification yachting meant that both boats were capable of an amazing 25 knots in just over ten knots of wind.
Windspeeds of up to 23 knots and choppy conditions put paid to the first two chances to race, but the competition finally got underway and on Saint Valentine’s Day, the second race came to its thrilling conclusion, with an outright win for the American team BMW Oracle, sailing their trimaran USA-17. The team, founded ten years ago by software giant Larry Ellison, powered across the finish line of Race 2 with a margin of 5 minutes and 26 seconds to defeat the Alinghi 2-0.
The catamaran Alinghi, the defender of the title, boasted a highly experienced team led by Ernesto Beterelli. A successful Swiss entrepreneur in the fields of business, finance, yachting and philanthropy, Berterelli made his millions from biotechnology firm Serono, which discovered a natural hormone used to treat female infertility. In 1999, his 12.5 metre Alinghi IV became one of the highest performing catamarans in the world, with a sail area of 376m2 for a total weight of 1,850kg. In 2003, Alinghi defeated Oracle BMW Racing in the Louis Vuitton Cup, and then won the 31st America’s Cup at its first attempt, brushing aside rivals Team New Zealand 5-0. This famous victory brought the trophy to Europe for the first time in 152 years.
Their gigantic new catamaran Alinghi V was launched on Lake Geneva in July last year and arrived in Valencia for the first time in January, flying the colours of the Société Nautique de Genève. Its hundred team members were drawn from twenty different nationalities.
The opposition came in the form of the Golden Gate Yacht Club’s USA-17 trimaran, sailed by the BMW Oracle team built up by Larry Ellison. As CEO of Oracle, Ellison heads one of the world’s most significant computer companies, whose expertise in database technology has made them a familiar name to businesses and individuals all over the globe. Their acquisition in January of Sun Microsystems is the latest chapter in their ongoing success.
The boat, whose wing sail is over twice as big as the wing of a Boeing 747 and the largest wing sail ever fitted to a sailing vessel, was skippered by Olympic gold medallist Russell Coutts, who won for rivals Alinghi in 2003. Coutts is undefeated in the America’s Cup and holds the record for the most consecutive America’s Cup match race wins (14) of any skipper. In his home country of New Zealand he has been honoured with the CBE – Commander of the Order of the British Empire – and is a Distinguished Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit.
Like their rivals, the BMW-Oracle team had a superb multi-national team at their disposal, and a boat which was a clear rival to that of the defending team.
The competition was decided over just three races across two course types. Races 1 and 3 were contested over a simple upwind-downwind loop of 40 miles, whilst Race 2 was 39 miles long around an equilateral triangle course comprising a 13 mile beat and two 13 miles reaches.