Yachting: Series aims to get the love back into big-yacht racing

By Eloise Gibson

Dean Barker and his team could race arch-rivals Alinghi in Auckland waters as soon as next January, in a new Louis Vuitton-sponsored yacht regatta.

While the America's Cup lies stalled somewhere in a United States court, Emirates Team New Zealand have invited some of the world's top syndicates to a round-robin event in the inner Waitemata Harbour.

In a move managing director Grant Dalton hopes will "get a little love back" from a bored viewing public, past challengers for the Louis Vuitton Cup have been invited to compete for a chance to take on the Kiwi team.

The winner will get a specially created Louis Vuitton trophy - not to be confused with the America's Cup-linked Louis Vuitton Cup. Swiss team Alinghi have been invited to the series - called the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series - and Dalton said it would be "fantastic" if they accepted.

Auckland Mayor John Banks said he would personally invite Alinghi to Auckland.

The six-team series will be raced using full America's Cup-sized boats and sailing teams. But land-lubbers should get a much better view than they are used to - the racing will be much closer to shore than when New Zealand defended the America's Cup in 1999 and 2003.

Dalton said he hoped the series would rekindle support for yacht racing. "We know the public have had enough of the legal stuff ... [but] I still believe there is a lot of latent support out there," he said.

Team New Zealand's side of the Auckland Viaduct will be reopened to the public for the series.

The Government will stump up $750,000 for the series, funded from the $36 million it set aside for Team New Zealand's next America's Cup.

It is not yet known which teams will accept Team New Zealand's invitation.

Yacht-racing syndicates are feeling strapped for cash as they wait for BMW Oracle and Alinghi to wage a drawn-out battle over the next Cup challenge.

But Dalton said the only cost for teams taking part in the new regatta would be a branded spinnaker.

Team New Zealand will provide two boats for the races - NZL92 and NZL84, which were built for the Valencia America's Cup challenge last year.

The boats will be modified to be as similar as possible.

Dalton said it would be great just to get Barker and team back on the water. He said many teams were "in shut-down mode" as the cost of delay mounted on would-be Cup challengers.

The series "couldn't hurt" our chances in the next Cup, he said.

The regatta will be held over three weekends beginning on January 31, squeezing in three races a day until the final on February 13 or 14.

Teams have until October 30 to enter.

- NZ Herald

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