Mon, Jun 25, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Team Alinghi's new yacht wins opening America's Cup race

AP , VALENCIA, SPAIN

The newest boat for America's Cup defender Alinghi had a promising debut with a 35 second win over Emirates Team New Zealand in the opening race of the finals on Saturday.

The Swiss team had not tried its yacht SUI100 in real competition until its duel with New Zealand to start the best-of-nine series for the oldest trophy in international sport.

"It seems everything we wanted," Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth said of the boat, which appeared to have a clear downwind edge despite the choppy water.

Kiwi skipper Dean Barker said it was no surprise that the Swiss, the benchmark team in a series of warm-up regattas with their older boats, were quick on the water in the new one. It was Alinghi's sixth straight win in the finals dating to 2003.

"They're fast and they sail well," Barker said. "They took the first opportunity, got in front and controlled the race very well from there."

Although the Kiwis won the start, Alinghi gained and rounded the first marker 13 seconds ahead, building up a lead of up to 160m on the first downwind lap.

New Zealand narrowed the gap to less than a boat length on the second upwind lap after starting a tacking duel, but the Swiss were again faster over the final downwind beat to win.

"It was a great race," Butterworth said.

However, it was close enough for him to add that "the boats seem to have much the same speed."

The victory stretched Butterworth's unbeaten streak in America's Cup races to 16, going back to Black Magic's sweep in 1995 of American yacht Young America, skippered by Dennis Conner.

New Zealand won the right to challenge Alinghi by sweeping Italy's Luna Rossa 5-0 in the challenger finals, setting up a rematch after the team from landlocked Switzerland claimed the cup from New Zealand in 2003.

Barker said the only significant change in the New Zealand yacht NZL92 since the challenger finals was the swap of the lead bulb at the bottom of the keel.

"The boat is going well," Barker said. "It is early days, but the nice thing is that we feel competitive."

Butterworth, also a Kiwi, said his Swiss team were pleased with their yacht, considering that "with the big waves it was difficult to get the boat settled."

Alinghi was formed in 2000 by Swiss biotech billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli, who recruited a core of Kiwi sailors who had just successfully defended the America's Cup for New Zealand.

The America's Cup is named after its first winner, the New York Yacht of the same name.

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