Yachting: Butterworth cheering on Team NZ from afar

By Steve Deane

Brad Butterworth and the bulk of the crew from the Alinghi America's Cup syndicate gathered around a television screen yesterday on Hamilton Island, near Great Barrier reef off the northern Queensland coast.

They tuned into the opening race of the Louis Vuitton Cup and, like a good chunk of the sailing world, cheered on Team New Zealand.

It's not that the Switzerland-based former Cup holders have anything against Italian syndicate Luna Rossa.

It's just that they regard the best chance of the America's Cup being saved from its increasing irrelevance is if the Kiwi AC72 catamaran smashes the Italian boat Luna Rossa, and then goes on to do likewise to American billionaire Larry Ellison's Oracle in the Cup showdown.

"Most sailing people are hoping Team New Zealand win," says Butterworth. "Being a New Zealander, I'd love to see the thing back there. It would be a very good thing for everybody in the sport."

One of New Zealand's greatest sailors, Butterworth, 54, has a huge affinity for a Cup he has won and lost as both a skipper and tactician.

But instead of being a central figure as the 34th stoush for the Auld Mug plays out in San Francisco, he will be skippering a charter yacht for Alinghi owner Ernesto Bertarelli during a week-long racing carnival around the Whitsunday Islands.

Butterworth isn't too fussed about not being in San Francisco. "This one has been a great one to miss," he says.

"It's been a bit hopeless, with just one real well-sailed boat - which is Team New Zealand. The others have been pathetic, really.

"The boats are fantastic in terms of them flying; it's exciting and that's a marvellous thing. But the actual racing, for me, I don't think it is the right direction. They have pushed the boat out too far and made it incredibly difficult, and a bit dangerous."

Butterworth lays the blame for that at Ellison's feet - which is where it gets a bit murky. He believes Oracle have railroaded the Cup by installing a weak challenger of record - the party responsible for the nuts and bolts of the challenger series.

Oracle installed Mascalzone Latino in the role, only for the Italians to pull out, citing a lack of cash to meet the huge expense of developing and racing the cutting edge AC72s. Swedish syndicate Artemis inherited the job.

"The problem was that the relationship between the defender and the challenger of record was far too close," says Butterworth.

His words will raise an eyebrow among those who recall Alinghi installing faux yacht club Nautico Espanol de Vela as the challenger of record after their 2007 victory over Team New Zealand. The set of rules Alinghi came up with in consultation with themselves were decried as the most self-serving in Cup history.

After more battling in court and on the water, Oracle's trimaran trounced Alinghi's Butterworth-skippered catamaran to return the Cup to America.

Wherever the blame lies for those unfortunate events, the reality is the vision of Butterworth's former mate in the Team New Zealand afterguard, Sir Russell Coutts, of huge catamarans flying around San Francisco Bay, has not been widely supported.

Once Alinghi and Bertarelli left, Team New Zealand were the only serious contenders left standing.

Butterworth thinks the Kiwis can win. "If Team New Zealand can be dominant and they win then I think the Cup might change a bit," he says.

"It will become a bit more user-friendly. But they've got to go a long way before that happens.

"I don't think it will be easy but, looking from the outside, Team New Zealand have a very good chance."

- NZ Herald

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