The 32nd America's Cup Match was the most extraordinary, intriguing, unpredictable match in the event's 156-year history. Alinghi defended the Cup against challenger Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) by a seemingly healthy 5-2 margin, although that scoreline does not justice to how close things were between these two bitter rivals.
Why bitch? Not because of the 'defect' of key members of Team New Zealand after the 2000 Cup. For most Kiwis, the departure of tactical Brad Butterworth and other important players to Alinghi is now water under the bridge. No, the new reason to re-open old wounds was ETNZ team head Grant Dalton saying that if they won the cup they would reintroduce nationality rules.
Arguably the only nation that would be capable of fielding an exclusively home-grown crew of world-class standard is New Zealand, possibly also the USA. For smaller nations like Switzerland it would make it virtually impossible to mount a credible challenge. And so Alinghi billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli was outraged at Grant Dalton's intentions to clamp down on nationalism. After all, here was the team to which Bertarelli had made a NZ $ 10 million (approx US $ 7.8 million) loan. "The nationality rule he's speaking about is obviously primarily directed to Alinghi, so I guess that's the thank-you note for helping him get his team together. out of work. And more surprisingly so, they are probably friends of his, since a lot of teams have Kiwis in their ranks. "
The other big fear of the Kiwis taking the Cup back down to New Zealand was that all the good work achieved in Europe – attracting more teams, more sponsors, bigger audiences – would seriously be lost if it returned to the opposite side of the globe. Some sailors described the 32nd America's Cup Match as a battle for the very future of the event. American grinder on Alinghi, Mark Newbrook commented: "I think we've seen a glimmer of hope for a very high level of professionalism for this sport in Valencia.
"There's an opportunity for the sport to move beyond the philanthropy of one rich fella who had some money to burn on the sport, where it might get to the point where this is a self-sustaining sport and there's enough corporate interest for it not to Rely on the whim of some wealthy family. That would be very promising. I've said right along if Alinghi wins the Cup it will be very good for business, and I mean good for everyone on all the teams in the Cup. "
All of which explains why the Spanish and Italian challenger teams, Desafio Espanol and Luna Rossa, broke with tradition by offering to train not with their fellow challenger, ETNZ, but the Defender Alinghi. If Alinghi won the Cup again, their commercial futures would be more or less assured. Life would be a good deal more uncertain if the Kiwis were to win.
Not that many were giving Dean Barker's team much hope of toppling the Swiss team led by another Kiwi, Brad Butterworth. Word on the street was that the Defender's weapon of choice, recently launched SUI 100, was a very potent machine. In the first race, however, the Kiwis cave the Swiss a good run for their money. Alinghi won, but not by a convincing margin. And then the Kiwis won the next two. 2-1 to the Defender. Boatspeed differences were actually imperceptible, especially in the flukier breezes of Race 3.
Race 3 was an epic contest, albeit in light winds, but with multiple lead changes as the wind ebbed and flowed in favor of one team, then the other. Alinghi led around the final mark, but on the run to the finish the Kiwis sneaked around their rivals to drift across the line in front. Alinghi was outraged that the race had gone ahead. Bertarelli described the race as "a little bit of Las Vegas, which is why I do not think the race should have happened".
After that loss, Brad Butterworth would later say that it was at the end of Race 3 that he was convinced Alinghi would win the America's Cup. So it proved. Dean Barker was the better starting helmsman, causing all manner of trouble for his opponent number on SUI 100, American driver Ed Baird. The Kiwis would hold the early advantage in a number of races, but for all Baird's failures in the pre-start, he was steering SUI 100 very well around the course, and the Swiss boat started to demonstrate an ever-so-small-but -significant advantage over NZL 92.
Subsequent races were also nailbiting affairs, with the lead changing on a number of occasions. But Race 7, which would prove the final race of the 32nd America's Cup, was perhaps the greatest cup race of all time. It began with a typically aggressive pre-start, both boats coming off the line neck and neck. After a drag race out to the left, Alinghi was always forced to tack away, but superior tactics saw the Defender lead narrowly around the windward mark in 17-18 knots of wind.
Down the run, Alinghi's spinnaker work looked uncharacteristically shaky and the Kiwis surged into the lead. They narrowly defended the lead until the top of the next windward leg, when Alinghi had the New Zealand boat pinned out on the left. Dean Barker attempted an ambitious "dial-down" manoeuvre to wriggle free of Alinghi's clutches, but Ed Baird did a superb countermove, allowing Barker no room for escape. Baird had to alter course to avoid a collision, and the umpires had no hesitation in giving the Kiwis a penalty.
It looked like job done for Alinghi at this point, but down the final run, a broken spinnaker pole fitting combined with a massive change in the wind – a 160-degree shift and a big drop in pressure – saw the Defender suddenly stranded – just metres from the finish line. The Kiwis responded better to the change of conditions and sneaked past the stricken Swiss. Just before the finish, Barker luffed up and tackled the boat to shake off that penal, tacking back to cross the line just as Alinghi surged up to them again. Across the line there was nothing in it, a moment's uncertainty before the race committee hated the blue flag, giving the race win – and the America's Cup – to Alinghi, by just 1 second.
It was an extraordinary conclusion to a gripping contest. Bertarelli was deluted to have won, not just the sporting contest but the battle with Dalton over nationality. "We enjoy being able to meet and compete against people from different backgrounds and we would never lock anyone out of this competition," said the billionaire. "I never thought when we started, that we would be locked out of it. When I said that we were fighting for our survival, I did not know how right I was, and here we are. m looking forward to continue. "
Two days later Alinghi and organization body ACM announced the new Protocol Governing the Thirty Third America's Cup. Having secured a hastily formed Spanish yacht club, the Club Nautico Espanol de Vela, as the Challenger of Record, the Swiss produced a document that stacks the odds heavily in the Defender's favor. Of course, to some extent this has always been the case, because the Defender gets to set the rules of the next Cup. The Challenger of Record is meant to argue the challengers' point of view, but it sees the Spanish were happy to sign the document and read it later. Spanish naivety has outraged the other challengers. Some may not come back to the Cup.
There are very few assurances in the current Protocol. We do not the timing and we do not know the venue. It could be Valencia in 2009, or it could be anywhere in Europe in 2010 or 2011. What we do know is that the next event will take place in a new class of racing yacht, at 90 feet long, slightly larger than the existing ACC yachts. Apart from that design details are very sketchy.
So, interesting times, even after the conclusion of an epic 32nd America's Cup. A little too epic, perhaps, for Ernesto Bertarelli. The terms of the 33rd America's Cup seem written to help ensure Alinghi returns to the safer pastures of the 5-0 whitewash which the team enjoyed over Emirates Team New Zealand in Auckland 2003.
Source by Andrew Rice