Yachting: America's Cup opener postponed

By Bernie Wilson

VALENCIA - The opening race of the 33rd America's Cup between two-time defending champion Alinghi of Switzerland and American challenger BMW Oracle Racing was postponed overnight (NZT) because of unsteady wind.

The giant multihulls USA and Alinghi 5 floated idly near the start line, well off the Valencia coast, for nearly four hours in the cold before the race was called off.

"Last night and again this morning, I was convinced (we would sail)," Alinghi president and helmsman Ernesto Bertarelli said. "But from 10 o'clock this morning, the meteorologists told us the chances weren't going to improve.

"We're going to have to wait."

Officials will try again on Wednesday to get in Race 1 of the best-of-three series. However, BMW Oracle meteorologist Chris Bedford was only "hopeful" the race would get under way then.

"In the afternoon it could turn into a sea breeze," said Bedford, who expects choppier water conditions as a new weather front pushes through on Tuesday. "(But) for sure today it was the right call."

The teams are finally settling their differences on the water after the sailing classic was disrupted by a bitter court fight that lasted 2 years.

Monday's conditions illustrate how difficult this regatta could be.

There were reports throughout the late morning and early afternoon that there was 6 to 10 knots of wind at the top mark. The problem was, that mark was 32 kilometres from the starting line, so the two areas were in different weather patterns.

"The conditions just weren't good," Bertarelli said while staying optimistic about the conditions. "It's the winter. Ideal conditions in Valencia would have been May - that's what we asked initially but we were forced in February."

There was little, if any wind, at the starting line.

The entire race course encompasses 644 kilometres.

"It's a big ask to get that much runway that has consistent wind direction," said Bedford, a veteran of eight America's Cups. "It's going to be quite difficult."

Because Alinghi and BMW Oracle Racing couldn't agree to rules for a conventional regatta involving several challengers sailing for the right to meet the defender, it defaulted to a rare head-to-head showdown, or Deed of Gift Match.

The Deed of Gift, the 1887 document that governs the event, calls for a best-of-three series. Races 1 and 3, if necessary, are 32 kilometres into the wind and 32 kilometres back. The course for Race 2 will be a triangle with 21-kilometre legs, the first one into the wind and the next two across the wind.

Despite the ponderous court fight between billionaires Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp. and Ernesto Bertarelli of Alinghi, this match has been an eagerly anticipated showdown between two of the fastest, most powerful sailboats ever built.

The boats are capable of sailing three times the speed of the wind - when there is wind.

- AP

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