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Special Report: Alinghi Wins America's Cup!

July 3 - Valencia, Spain

Click on photo to enlarge.

Alinghi syndicate head Ernesto Bertarelli hoists the Auld Mug after winning the most exciting AC race in living memory.
© 2007 ACM / Carlos Luján

There has never been a more exciting America's Cup in living memory than the one completed today, and only a handful of events in all sports come close. In Race 7, after three lead changes, a penalty call, and a broken spinnaker pole, the Swiss Alinghi team sailed across the finish line to beat Emirates Team New Zealand by a literal nose - 1 second was the official delta. Not only was this the closest America's Cup finish ever, it was the all-important fifth win of the nine-race series for Alinghi, which means they won the 32nd America's Cup. Alinghi's successful defense of the Auld Mug (they won AC 31 in New Zealand in 2003), also marked the first win by an American skipper - Floridian Ed Baird has been at the helm of Alinghi for the series - in 15 years.

Alinghi was ahead of the Kiwis by a boatlength at the first mark but soon lost the lead.
© 2007 ACM / Stefano Gattini

Race 7 started with Alinghi's SUI 100 and Emirates' NZL 92 coming off the starting line even, with Alinghi leading the way around the first windward mark by a boatlength. Emirates was the faster boat downwind, and by the leeward gate they had a 14-second lead. But the Swiss were quicker upwind, and they ate into the Kiwi lead despite helmsman Dean Barker and tactician Terry Hutchinson's best efforts to keep pushing them right with a series of tacks. Within a few boatlengths of the mark, Alinghi had gained the advantage. Emirates then tacked onto port, intending to duck the Swiss boat's stern, but Baird and tactician Brad Butterworth turned the maneuver into a dial-down. Baird came down to a beam reach - the lowest he was allowed to go by the rules - and for a few seconds, the boats were headed straight at each other. The game of chicken broke up when Barker dove downwind and a second later Baird tacked to starboard. But then a yellow flag appeared on the umpire boat - penalty New Zealand for not keeping clear! It was the first penalty imposed at this America's Cup series and could not have come at a worse time for Emirates.

Clever maneuvering by Alinghi's Ed Baird and Brad Butterworth drew a penalty on ETNZ.
© 2007 ACM / Guido Trombetta

In any other sailing event, it would have been the death knell for New Zealand. But in this America's Cup, anything could happen, and on the run three things happened that - incredibly - threw the ball back in the Kiwi court: the wind went from 14 knots to about 5, it swung around so far (almost 200 degrees) that the run for the finish turned into a beat - and Alinghi's spinnaker pole snapped off at the mast, their first significant gear failure of the Cup. While the crew of the Swiss boat struggled to get the kite and broken pole secured and a headsail up, Emirates, their jib already up and drawing, pulled ahead.

But then came the required penalty maneuver. Emirates had to throw in an extra tack to exonerate themselves. In this case, Barker had to go onto port tack and back to starboard to try to retain enough momentum in the dying breeze to get across the line first. He initiated the maneuver a few boatlengths before the line. The moves were quick and precise, but once Emirates was back on starboard and pointed the right direction, she was almost dead in the water. In the meantime, the Swiss had gained back the ground they had lost and, as the Kiwis slowly built momentum and the world held its breath, the Swiss closed the gap. The finish was so close that it appeared to be a bona fide tie. A few seconds later the call came down: Alinghi by one second. The cheers in Switzerland boomed across Lake Geneva and echoed off the Matterhorn.

Alinghi by a nose!
© 2007 ACM / Stefano Gattini

Congratulations to Ernesto Bertarelli, Ed Baird, Brad Butterworth and all the rest of the Alinghi team for their victory. And a big nod of the hat also to Grant Dalton, Dean Barker, Terry Hutchinson and all the Emirates Team New Zealand squad for their incredible performance.

At of this writing, the salt spray has settled but the champagne spray was still flying. And the powers that be were already talking about the next Cup. The top rumor in Valencia was that the deal was already done with a new challenger of record, and that that challenger is none other than Desafio Español. It's no secret that the winds off Valencia have been something of a disappointment over what was promised, but by becoming COR, Spain goes far toward retaining the venue for America's Cup 33 in 2010.

Congratulations to both teams for a battle well fought.
© 2007 ACM / Carlos Luján

A few parting comments: The America's Cup has received a lot of negative press in the last few years for its choice of boats, choice of venues and its one-sided, embarrassing shut-outs. We were part of the choir here and still feel there is room for improving the event. However, thanks to the hard work of a lot of good people and some of the best match racing we've ever seen in our lives, we admit the pursuit of the Auld Mug doesn't seem nearly as flawed as it did just a few weeks ago. And we are happy to acknowledge that the America's Cup is once again, most deservedly, sailing's king of the hill.

Long live the king!

- latitude / jr


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