Sailing: Alinghi sets early pace for the defence

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The Independent Online

More than 150 years of tradition have been consigned to the history books. However, the new-look America's Cup has not erased all the carping - under the surface of the 32nd defence there is still much skulduggery, more of it to do with money than sport these days.

More than 150 years of tradition have been consigned to the history books. However, the new-look America's Cup has not erased all the carping - under the surface of the 32nd defence there is still much skulduggery, more of it to do with money than sport these days.

But the turnstiles clicked more than 120,000 times in the first week of six 2005 regattas. And during this summer-solstice fiesta weekend that will more than double. With two years until the match between the defender, Ernesto Bertarelli's Alinghi of Switzerland, and the sole challenger to emerge from the 11 hopefuls, the business of engaging the public has hit the ground running. The village at the end of the Avenida del Puerto is the place to take the family to watch the races on a big screen or for the evening stroll.

What has also emerged is a first division of three challengers, a second division of one or two, and a third division of six. Larry Ellison's BMW Oracle, minus a self-separated Chris Dickson, Pat-rizio Bertelli's restructured Luna Rossa, and a tightly managed Team New Zealand are head and shoulders above the rest. And all were beaten in the match- race phase by Alinghi, using the unused boat from the last cup. Helmsman Peter Holmberg says it would just as easily have wiped out the Kiwi defence. Now they are collecting points racing as a fleet.

Fears about the quality of the water on the north course (of two) have been angrily dismissed. But many teams have taken hepatitis jabs and alcohol gel washes. The drains also smell ripe, but the Valencians are determined that all will be sweetness and light out on the water. Until the teams start serious squabbling.

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