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‘Ma’am, there is no second’

The America’s Cup

All you need to know...

So what does the average man or woman need (or want) to know about this sport of the indecently rich? Well, this will be the first time the event has ever been held in Europe, despite the trophy having been around for 156 years. Why? because previous winners –America, Australia and New Zealand – have always hosted the event in their home waters. With Switzerland winning in 2003, the event has finally been brought to Europe. Lake Geneva is unsuitable for big boat racing so the Swiss Team Alinghi chose Valencia out of the six European venues which were considered.

Because of this, sponsorship from many companies interested in promoting their wares to such a potentially enormous audience has made it possible for a record 11 challengers!

The Cup or ‘Auld Mug’ was put up by the Royal Yacht Squadron for a race around the Isle of Wight in August 1851. The race was decisively won by the schooner ‘America’, watched by Queen Victoria. When she asked ‘who is second?’, the reply came ‘Ma’am, there is no second’. The winners later donated the Cup to the New York Yacht Club for ‘friendly competition among nations’. This ‘friendly competition’ has generated a succession of lawsuits over the years, including one in 1988 where a 90 ft (27.4m) New Zealand yacht raced a 60ft (18.3m) American catamaran….. and lost…both on the water and in court. Until 1983(?), the race was between two yachts, the defenders (American) and the challengers. These days so many teams want to compete that an elimination or ‘round robin’ series takes place in the 3 months prior to the challenge. This series is sponsored by Louis Vuitton and is due to start on 18 April.

Yacht design has evolved radically during the last 20 years; the modern America’s Cupper is based on a formula agreed in 1991 which allows for development within strict guidelines. The similarity between ACC yachting and Formula 1 racing is more than skin deep except that, in yacht racing, you take the pit crew and tactical team with you on the circuit! Any trimming (tuning) of the sails (engine) will be done by the crew throughout the race. Instead of pit stops, specialists among the crew will be looking for better wind (fuel) around the circuit. As in Formula 1, the fastest boat does not always win – a well-prepared, tactically superior but slower yacht can and often will beat a faster yacht, simply by placing itself between the faster yacht and its ‘fuel supply’ (the wind).

The weirdest thing about this whole event is that New Zealander Russell Coutts (44), acknowledged as the best match-racing sailor in the world, will not be able to take part! He has won the last three America’s Cup series: 1995, 1999 and again in 2003, this time sailing for the Swiss Team Alinghi. However, after falling out with Ernesto Bertarelli, head of the Alinghi syndicate, his contract terms make it impossible for Russell to sail for another team. The finals between Alinghi and the winner of the elimination series will take place from June 23 over a two-week period and will be the best of seven races. The winner will be the first boat to win four races, so it could all be over in just a few days. However, the likelihood is that the challenger, honed by months of racing against stiff and varied competition from ten other syndicates, will prove a formidable opponent for Alinghi, who will have been tuning up against fellow team members in similar yachts.

So, where can you go to watch this exotic event? Probably the best place to start is at the America’s Cup Port itself which is next door to Valencia’s commercial port.

Do take a compass however, as Valencian signage is pathetically erratic. When (if) you get there, try parking beneath the main pavilion close to the port entrance where there are lifts to take you up to the viewing terraces. Here you will see the docks for each syndicate laid out around the port. At present there are two cruisers offering scheduled trips out to the race area for an hour at €12 per person. Once the event proper gets under way, it may be better to watch the action on the big screen near the pavilion or set up on Malvarossa Beach [just next to the port] with a good pair of binoculars.

This will prove to be a spectacular and exciting event – something not to be missed. America’s Cup…bienvenido a Valencia!

© Mike O’Neill 2007

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