America's Cup comes back to its home

A heady cocktail of concours d'elegance and classic racing enjoys its opening ceremony in Cowes today. Over the next week, it is arguable who will have to overcome the bigger headaches: the participants or the organisers.

A heady cocktail of concours d'elegance and classic racing enjoys its opening ceremony in Cowes today. Over the next week, it is arguable who will have to overcome the bigger headaches: the participants or the organisers.

After a full dress rehearsal of the race management systems yesterday, the blazer brigade were all due to be on parade again soon after dawn today for a quite unusual piece of ceremonial.

The America's Cup will be returning to the steps and landing of the Royal Yacht Squadron, accompanied by an honour guard of Maori warriors. In more European attire will be a welcoming party from both the squadron and the New York Yacht Club.

The cup has only returned once to its original home since the club lost it 150 years ago. That was in 1994 when a meeting of the challengers for the 1995 defence in San Diego was held here. It also came back to Britain in 1997 after it was battered by a hammer-wielding Maori of less sympathetic disposition when on display in its current home, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in Auckland.

Garrards, the original makers, restored the trophy to its former glory and are now adding a plinth extension to inscribe the names of future winners. There are stirrings of hope that the extension could eventually include a boat from Britain for the first time because, after a gap of 15 years, a British challenge will be contesting the Louis Vuitton Cup elimination series in Auckland in October next year.

This week they will be on one of the three training boats they bought from Japan. Their new boat should be launched next spring and then shipped down under. They will be joined by one of Patrizio Bertelli's two Prada yachts, a Luna Rossa, and the 1995-winning black boat, NZL 32 as well as Bill Koch's dual representation with America 3 and Il Moro V.

Bertelli's second yacht is one of 36 in the 12-Metre World Championship he is sponsoring within the overall regatta. Also prominent in that class, which will race off Hill Head each day, should be the 1983 wing-keel wonder Australia II, which prised the Cup from American hands after a 132-year reign. And Team New Zealand will also be racing on KZ7, the "plastic fantastic" which made the Louis Vuitton Cup final in 1987.

Photographers are hoping for a field day afloat as the gossip and society writers are ashore. Cowes is cashing in big time, but also insisting that some of the yacht owners should be given privacy.

Quite why anyone demanding anonymity should choose to turn up for so high-profile a parade is difficult to fathom. Perhaps it has less to do with the attentions of the spectators than the international tax gatherers.

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