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?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power