A drama on the high seas - and in the courtroom

Amid a three-year dispute between proud rivals, the America's Cup begins on Monday with tensions spilling over

As an exercise in the bizarre, the America's Cup has always been right up there, and the parade of the weird and the crazy on Monday off Valencia, Spain, has the additional factor of being built on a foundation of bitter rivalry as potent and toxic as anything seen in its 159-year history.

Billionaires are lining up against each other like prizefighters, old friends are on opposite sides in a winner-takes-all struggle. You don't need to understand anything about the game to realise that here is the prospect of some very expensive blood on a very public carpet. The rivals are horribly exposed, egos are going to be bruised, the humble pie awaiting the loser has been cooking for over two years. The weapons of choice are boats, but no ordinary boats. They are unlike anything seen before, giant multihulls, not just fiendishly difficult to sail but downright dangerous. Make a mistake and they can catapult the crews into the water. Overload them and towering masts can come crashing down.

No wonder the crews will have crash helmets handy as hulls can fly between 20 and 40 feet in the air at speeds up to 40 miles an hour. They are very, very fast but both will want to go as slowly as possible while still winning. Nursing them round the course is as important as scrambling for a performance edge.

The holder of the sport's oldest trophy is Switzerland's Alinghi team and the challenger is the San Francisco-based BMW Oracle team. But the challenge very nearly didn't come. Even the most hardened of America's Cup enthusiasts have had their patience stretched beyond breaking point by a continuous barrage of complaint, accusation and insult. The billionaires are Ernesto Bertarelli, inheritor of a pharmaceuticals empire, and Larry Ellison, creator of the Oracle computer software house. The friends are Bertarelli's skipper, Brad Butterworth, a Kiwi who won three America's Cups and the man who was his skipper, Russell Coutts. Coutts, a fellow Kiwi, won and defended the cup, was wooed by Bertarelli and won it again before they fell out. Enter Ellison, who snapped up Coutts to put him in the opposite corner to Butterworth, who took over his old job at Alinhgi.

Bertarelli set about organising the next defence, originally scheduled for last year. But Ellison was ready to throw a spanner in the works. His lawyers complained that Bertarelli's Alinghi team had broken the rules and claimed the sole right to challenge the Swiss holders.

The New York court agreed with Ellison and forced Bertarelli, a long-experienced catamaran sailor on Lake Geneva, to set about building his defence weapon. He is threatening to steer it himself, Oracle is relying on an Australian whizz helmsman called James Spithill.

As the America's Cup is organised unlike any other event in sailing, or any other sport for that matter, that also cut out all other potential challengers, including Britain's, to contest a best of three. The result is something of a soapbox derby on super steroids, except that there are quite a few Nasa scientists who would like the sort of carefree budgets and blue-sky thinking that the best in yacht design and engineering have been allowed to indulge in a mere yacht race.

Both sides say the other has spent a ridiculous fortune and both say the truth, in their own case, is much more modest. Halve what they both say and it comes to $250m (£158m). Accept what they both say and that becomes half a billion. At that rate, if it is all over in two races and they last two and half hours each, that is $100m for an hour's racing.

That includes legal bills run up in the New York Supreme Court plus little incidentals like the renting of a helicopter for a month last year to ship the defender yacht from Switzerland over the Alps to Italy, and chartering a special ship to bring the challenger yacht from San Diego, through the Panama Canal and across the Atlantic to Spain. That's just petty cash.

Even though the contest should be done, weather willing, by next weekend, should Alinghi win Oracle will go to court claiming that part of the Swiss boat was illegally built in the US. The entire boat must be constructed in the team's homeland.

The bookmakers find the winner a tough one to call but should there be light breezes expect Alinghi to be favoured, in fresher breezes Oracle should be more powerful. It would do the sport the world of good were it to be tight and exciting and go to a third race decider.

This is a dish which has been a long time coming, but now it's here it has the perfect ingredients for a great event.

America's Cup: How it works

*This year's event is the 33rd staging of the cup, 159 years after the first race in 1851 around the Isle of Wight.



*One defender (Alinghi) faces a challenger team (BMW Oracle) in the best of three races off Valencia.



*The first race takes places over 40 miles, 20 miles upwind and 20 miles back, with the second over a triangular course of 39 miles.



*Races begin on Monday, and then every two days after.



*Following legal disputes, this year's event has just one challenger, compared to the usual eight to 10, racing against each other in a regatta.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable