Onboard the Alinghi with Bertarelli

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The Independent Online

The ride was sweet, the noise was deafening and the win was smoothly executed. But, most noticeable was the smile on the face of the Swiss double America's Cup winner Ernesto Bertarelli.

There may be times when the smile is more menacing, but on the back of his 80-foot Alinghi, which won the Cup last year, it was relaxed and full of pure pleasure at being one of the boys playing a game he loves. It was also good to see Britain's Team Origin, in a borrowed Spanish boat, making some smart moves with triple gold medallist Ben Ainslie as skipper.

The boat has a crew of 17, perhaps one or even two too many according to Murray Jones, the Kiwi who has taken over the helm in the absence of Ed Baird. But there is also a place for an 18th man or woman and being the first ever media wallah to be offered the opportunity was not one to be missed.

In an official America's Cup either challenger or final race there is a no talking rule. This could be relaxed a little in what is little more than a training race, but it is not a good idea to chatter when everyone else is concentrating hard.

Skipper Brad Butterworth ran the show and only two other voices were generally heard. Yet another Kiwi, Dean Phipps, constantly called his predictions of more or less wind pressure while the Portuguese navigator, Juan Vila gave a stream of information on the progress of the boat around the course.

Even in the light wind of about 8 knots the boat picks up pace and slips powerfully through the water. The ropes controlling the sails have tonnes of load on them and, as they are eased and tightened round the winch drums, the ear-splitting noise makes it sound as if the boat is about to self-destruct while vibrations shake every fibre of the carbon deck.

Bertarelli says little, busies himself by winding one of the winches and makes sure that the backstay not being used at the time to hold up the mast, is tidied away. When he does find time for conversation it is in part about the Olympics, not least because the only boat which challenges him for the lead, Patrizio Bertelli's Prada-backed Luna Rossa, has a new tactician in Robert Scheidt, the Brazilian with whom Ainslie exchanged punches in the singlehanded Laser dinghy.

Ainslie had perfect revenge for a silver medal in 1996 by sailing Scheidt off the course and into second place four years later in Sydney. Scheidt is standing next to the new Luna Rossa helmsman Peter Holmberg, who has his own point to make after being passed over when Baird was given the Alinghi driving job last year.

And, to complete the circle, Ainslie's tactician is Iain Percy who, when taking the gold medal in the Star class at this year's Olympic Games in China, also beat Scheidt into second place. They will all meet again when they take part in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series in Auckland.

That finishes on 14 February, but not everyone will be on everyone else's kisses and Valentine cards list. One point that Bertarelli does want to make is that he believes strongly in his proposal that there should be a new boat, that it should be cheaper to build than the current boats, and that each team should be allowed only one of them. It is part of a much wider debate but, for a few hours and for a few days at least, it is the sailing that is centre stage.

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