Oracle lands first blow in America's Cup

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Flying high, faster by not just a mile but over three kilometres, the American challenger for the America's Cup landed the first deadly blow on the Swiss defender as the best of three races at last started off in Valencia.

Cup holder Ernesto Bertarelli's Alinghi catamaran was in trouble four minutes before the race ever started, was blitzed by three minutes and 21 seconds on the 20-mile upwind leg and finished 15 mins 28seconds behind at the finish. It was a thrashing and a stunning testimony to his opponent's superior design and technology.

Having started one minute and 27 seconds behind, after stalling the boat and being slow to regain momentum, BMW Oracle helmsman James Spithill unleashed the power of the most powerful sailboat racing weapon ever seen. The Oracle boss Larry Ellison and his ceo Russell Coutts are half way to taking the Cup back to its home country.

Spithill had already trapped Alinghi into a penalty just seconds after entering the pre-start area, an underlying comfort as the BMW Oracle trimaran USA pounded a deficit of over half a kilometre into an advantage of a kilometre and a half.

The cat was expected to be faster on the run home, but Oracle kept on increasing its lead, reaching speeds of 28 knots in the eight-knot southerly wind.

Any hope that Alinghi would not only pass them but by enough to complete a 270-degree penalty turn as well evaporated in seconds as the downwind difference emerged. Nor could Alinghi claim that the penalty cost them the race. And, when they fluffed the penalty turn at the end, it cost them seven minutes to do it again.

The bravery of BMW Oracle to switch relatively late from conventional sails to a wing which is the biggest ever built – towering 232 feet, it would far outstretch an Airbus A380 wing – and the technology that has gone into both building it and sailing it has paid off in spades for a challenger that the Swiss have constantly accused of not wanting to meet them on the water.

The last time a wing mast has been seen on an America's Cup race was in 1988, when Dennis Conner used one on a catamaran to beat off a court-led challenge by New Zealand's Sir Michael Fay. He is in town as a spectator, but this time to watch a match between multihulls rather than a mismatch with Sir Michael's giant monohull.

The court battles on the road to the 33rd America's Cup, which was born out of a race around the Isle of Wight in 1851, have been bitter and expensive. But the spectacle has been outstanding. The second of the best of three races is scheduled for Sunday.

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