Landlocked Switzerland, now using the Mediterranean as their playground, carried on where they left off four years ago by beating Team New Zealand convincingly in the first race of the 32nd America's Cup yesterday. With the Spanish Airforce aerobatic team accompanying TNZ and the Swiss Airforce doing the same job for their flag flyers, there was an emotional send-off from the America's Cup harbour.
It had been 5-0 on Auckland's Hauraki Gulf and yesterday that became not just 6-0 for the Swiss team but the 16th consecutive America's Cup race win for skipper and tactician Brad Butterworth and four of his crew; Simon Daubney, Murray Jones, Dean Phipps and Warwick Fleury.
The margin was 35 seconds in a 12 to 14-knot breeze just north of east and with an awkward chop on the 3.3-mile course. The Kiwis had changed the 19.5-tonne bulb at the bottom of the keel fin, choosing one that was longer and flatter as part of a bid to improve slightly their upwind performance. It is bright yellow and decorated with Buzzy Bee, which used to be a popular toy in New Zealand.
After a good start by their helmsman, Dean Barker, TNZ were notionally ahead for the first of the 12.6 miles and they were six seconds faster than the Swiss boat, Alinghi, on the second upwind leg. But the oscillating wind direction favoured the Swiss, giving them control.
Any improvement in one direction comes at a price in another and as soon as helmsman Ed Baird was able to settle on the latest of Alinghi's two new boats he was able to stretch away, especially on both downwind legs. Alinghi navigator, Juan Vila, said that the data for the downwind legs would have to be analysed carefully and he attributed the way they had been able to stretch their lead to a combination of extra gusts of wind strength with being able to surf down a couple of good waves.
Afterwards, Barker said he felt his team had beencompetitive, adding: " It was nice to finish the first race." TNZ was dismasted in the first race of 2003. He was also ready to praise his opponents, saying: "They were fast and they sail well. There was nothing we didn't expect." And he added a tribute to the hordes of fans which have made the pilgrimage to Valencia. "We are very much in awe of the support we have received," he said.
Dame Ellen MacArthur took line honours in an Extreme 40 catamaran to head a fleet, eventually estimated at 1,733 yachts, in the annual 50-mile Round the Island (of Wight) race yesterday. Again there were aerobatics, this time from the Red Arrows, but no records were broken as the first monohull home, Mike Slade's new 100-footer Leopard, making its debut on the race track, completed the course in 4hr 23min 05sec, which was 17min 25sec outside the record he set in an earlier Leopard in 2001.
Back from sailing solo round the world, the 68-year old Sir Robin Knox-Johnston was in his Open 60 but in the wars as he took a serious knock to his elbow. The Gold Roman Bowl for the overall winner went again to Edward Donald in the 26-foot Folkboat, Madeleine.
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