Yachting: Oracle win America's Cup

By Bernie Wilson

VALENCIA - Larry Ellison's space-age trimaran BMW Oracle won back the America's Cup for the United States by speeding across the Mediterranean and routing two-time defending champion Alinghi of Switzerland in a two-race sweep.

The 65-year-old software tycoon was onboard his incredibly fast craft this morning (NZT), after sitting out Race 1 due to a weight limit. His victory over rival Ernesto Bertarelli sends the oldest trophy in international sports to San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club and ends perhaps the most bitter chapter in the event's 159-year history.

Ellison screamed "Valencia - muchas gracias! (thank you very much)" before hoisting the Auld Mug high in the air and then celebrating by spraying champagne over crew members.

"I am so proud of this team, I am so proud to be part of this team, I am so proud to bring the America's Cup after such a long absence back to the United States of America," said Ellison, the CEO of Oracle Corp. "It's absolutely an awesome feeling."

The two billionaires have been locked in a tumultuous legal fight for 2½ years, and it looked for a while like the result of this race was going to be contested off the water.

Alinghi raised a red protest flag on its giant catamaran late on the first leg of the triangle course during Race 2, leaving everyone wondering what it was about since there's no communications off the boats.

The Swiss dropped the protest after the race, confirming Ellison's win.

The America's Cup has been away from US shores for 15 years, the longest drought since America won the silver trophy by beating a fleet of British ships around the Isle of Wight in 1851. Dennis Conner lost it in 1995 to Team New Zealand and Russell Coutts, now a four-time America's Cup winner who is now CEO of BMW Oracle Racing.

Besides Ellison, tactician John Kostecki was the only other American on BMW Oracle's crew. The massive sailboat was steered by skipper Jimmy Spithill of Australia, who at age 30 was sailing in his fourth America's Cup.

"The boys are just absolutely lit up," Spithill said. "Larry's stoked, Russell's stoked and we just can't wait to get back to shore to celebrate."

Bertarelli wasn't at the ceremony when the ornate America's Cup was handed over by the Societe Nautique de Geneve to the Golden Gate Yacht Club. The biotech tycoon became the first European to win the America's Cup in 2003 with a victory over Team New Zealand, and defended it against the Kiwis in 2007 before the legal fight with Ellison began.

"Congratulations to the BMW Oracle team, their boat was faster," Bertarelli said at a news conference. "They had a strategy, they got a little help from the legal system in New York and that always makes it difficult for us Europeans and that gave them advantages.

"They were faster, good on them," he continued. "We didn't have a boat that was quite fast enough. We didn't lay down. We fought as hard as we could and we exit with our head high."

While Ellison's fortune made the victory possible, the true star was his monster black-and-white trimaran and its radical 223-foot wing sail, which powered the craft at three times the speed of the wind, sending its windward and middle hulls flying well above the water.

When the yacht hooked into a breeze, it seemed as if Spithill jammed down an accelerator.

"We would have really liked to have sailed in the lighter air but it didn't happen," Alinghi crew member Pierre-Yves Jorand said. "We were at the limit. We couldn't push any harder."

One of the lasting images of this America's Cup will be that of Spithill, decked out in technology seemingly straight out Star Wars, calmly steering from his airborne helm.

"It's just such an awesome tool for racing," Spithill said.

The American trimaran took a 28-second lead rounding the first mark today and then accelerated over the Mediterranean while sailing across the wind on the second leg. The final margin for two of the fastest, most technologically advanced sailboats built in the 159-year history of the America's Cup was 5 minutes, 25 seconds.

Alinghi had to do a 270-degree penalty at the finish, the result of its second prestart blunder in as many races. The Swiss boat was in the starting box before the 5-minute gun sounded, giving BMW Oracle an instant boost.

While the Americans headed out to the left side of the course, Alinghi did a downspeed tack and took the right side. The move paid off when the Swiss gained during a wind shift and powered into the lead about a third of the way up the leg. Multihull whiz Loick Peyron of France took Alinghi's helm from Bertarelli early in the race.

Alinghi crossed ahead of BMW Oracle approaching the first mark, but lost speed during a tack and the Americans sailed ahead - and never looked back.

Ellison, a self-made billionaire, joins Harold Vanderbilt, Ted Turner and Bill Koch among the tycoons who've hoisted the silver trophy.

He's got a way to go to catch Conner, though. Conner won the America's Cup four times and lost it twice. His victory in 1987 in Fremantle, Australia, was a bit more stirring, as he went Down Under with determination to reclaim the trophy he'd lost four years earlier, ending the New York Yacht Club's 132-year winning streak.

Ellison's victory ended one of the most bitter chapters in the history of the America's Cup, which has often been a clash of egos as well as boats. He and Bertarelli fought over their interpretations of the 1887 Deed of Gift, which governs the America's Cup.

Ellison's syndicate eventually prevailed, forcing the rare head-to-head showdown.

This was only the second Deed of Gift match in modern times. The other was in 1988, when Conner steered his catamaran to a two-race sweep of New Zealand's big monohull in San Diego.

The America's Cup should return to its normal system of several challengers competing in sloops for the right to face the defender.

The ornate trophy itself is headed for the Golden Gate Yacht Club, which sits on a public jetty in the heart of San Francisco's cityfront, with views of one of the world's most famous bridges and Alcatraz Island.

- AP

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