Sailing: Bertelli launches Italian challenge

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The Independent Online
TO EVERYONE else, the moon is blue but Patrizio Bertelli, in keeping with the understated magenta logo that adorns his Prada house products, sees it as red. One can only imagine Italian fashion designer's immense satisfaction then as he watched 80 feet of sleek silver hull christened Luna Rossa here yesterday.

The first of two boats to bear the same name in this $50million (pounds 32million) challenge, it marked the start of the America's Cup season, which begins in earnest in Auckland in October.

Then, the first of three series of races commences to find the winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup. Semi-finals, staged uncomfortably with six boats, and finals will follow in January and early February. The winner lines up against the defender, New Zealand, for a best of nine series, starting on 18 February.

Yesterday at the launch of the Italian challenge was one of the boat's two principal designers, Doug Peterson, with a smile almost as broad as Bertelli's.

The American was closely involved with the design of the America3 campaign which successfully defended against Raul Gardini's Louis Vuitton Cup-winner, Moro di Venezia, in San Diego in 1992. He then switched to the New Zealand syndicate Black Magic, which walloped the US defenders 5-0 in 1995. Now, squaring the circle, he is part of the Italian bid to beat the Kiwis.

Watching as a priest performed a simple blessing was the former America3 boss, Bill Koch. "I enjoy being nostalgic about it, but I don't really want to do the America's Cup again," Koch declared.

"What I really want to do is race the Maxis again but, for the present, I have a 24ft day racer and my big project is my son William, plus the daughter to be born in three months' time to my wife, Angela."

In the same time period the Italian boat and those of the nine other syndicates bidding to be the ultimate challenger will arrive in Auckland, and the Italian coach, Rod Davis, admitted yesterday that preparations were probably only 60 per cent complete.

"But we have a lot of experience and we won't finish improving until the last race of the Cup," he said.