America’s Cup trophy within reach for BMW Oracle

The America’s Cup could have American hands again gripping the 159-year old trophy after a break of 15 years by Sunday evening if the second in a best of three races is staged tomorrow off Valencia.

The way in which BMW Oracle’s USA, a wing-masted trimaran, blew away the Swiss holder’s Alinghi catamaran, with the pedal well off the metal for much of the 40-mile race, means just keeping the boat, and particularly its 232-foot wing sail, intact for the 39-mile triangular race to wrap up the best of three.

The weather forecasters are saying that conditions for the second race will be similar, light air between six and 12 knots, to the first.

Principal race officer Harold Bennett had stuck to his guns and refused to start the opening race in the three and a half knots, which the Societe Nautique de Geneve had insisted were enough. The postponement flag remained flying on his committee boat until he was happy to let the two protagonists at each other’s throats.

When he did, the Swiss holders were caught like rabbits in the headlights as the much faster Oracle nailed Alinghi in a rule-breaking position, something which chief umpire Bill Edgerton had predicted would never happen. It took just 40 seconds, a protest flag went up on Oracle, a blue flag indicating a penalty against Alinghi went up on the umpire boat. Helmsman Jimmy Spithill has a heads-up display in special spectacles driven from a computer in a back-pack, but this time he was not looking at technical telemetry, he was in top gun mode. As the race developed, the penalty made no difference to the outcome. The big gun was his lethal weapon.

After that first race, the body language of the two teams as they faced up separately to a barrage of questions, could not have been more different. “We’ve done it” said the faces and shoulders of Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill, owner Larry Ellison, expected to be on board today, and mastermind ceo Russell Coutts, now on his way to winning the America’s Cup for the fourth time.

“We’ve blown it” said the faces, and particularly the eyes, of Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth, owner and helmsman Ernesto Bertarelli, and design chief Rolf Vrolijk.

Asked if Alinghi had “failed” in the design race, Butterworth took a long time to consider, mustered a broad smile, and said: “What do you want me to say, mate. They sailed from behind us to in front of us. Did you see what happened? Well, then you can work it out. They couldn’t have come off the line in a worse position and then wound up in a very strong position. When you’re sitting in front of them and they sail around you that’s speed, with an S.”

At least, after 30 months of acrimony and legal accusation, both Ellison and Coutts said they would shake their opponent’s hand and Bertarelli said that: “whoever wins on the water, as far as we are concerned, will be the winner.”

As both teams took a wet and soggy day off, the merry-go-round of speculation about how the next Cup would be put together was gathering pace. Among the frontrunners to be Challenger of Record is Italy’s Vincenzo Onorato and his Mascalzone Latino team, Sweden’s Torbjorn Tornqvist and his Artemis team, or a Spanish team.

Britain’s Sir Keith Mills and Team Origin were thought to be out of the running, but had been a leading contender to fulfil that role if Alinghi had won.

Although Ellison has said in the past he would give serious consideration to keeping Valencia as the host city, with Cascais in Portugal another European option, and a return to San Diego, where Oracle’s training camp was based, is also a possibility as his home town of San Francisco would have difficulty finding the space and enough clear stretches of water to set up race tracks.

Both sides have said they favour a return to monohull yachts, probably of about 90 feet, yet both sides have been excited by the speed and spectacle of the multihulls, but they would ramp up the budgets of the challengers.

Oracle insists that it does not want to try and structure every detail of America’s Cup 34, preferring to take time to consult the potential challengers.

Part of that consultation will balance a wish to see the next event staged as quickly as possible with the need of the challenging teams to find the finance and build new boats to a new design.