Yachting: Alinghi's big secret set to sail

The worst-kept secret in the America's Cup is official: Alinghi of Switzerland will sail a giant catamaran when it defends the oldest trophy in international sports early next year against bitter United States rival BMW Oracle Racing.

The Swiss confirmed yesterday they will sail a twin-hulled boat that is 90ft (27m) long on the waterline.

The catamaran reportedly has a bowsprit that makes it about 120ft overall.

The high-tech craft was built in Villeneuve, Switzerland, and will be launched by helicopter on Lake Geneva this week before undergoing testing.

Alinghi and BMW Oracle Racing of San Francisco are due to meet in a best-of-three series in February in huge multihulls.

The rare one-on-one showdown is the result of a convoluted, two-year court fight in which BMW Oracle Racing's backing yacht club was declared the rightful Challenger of Record.

Alinghi gets to pick the venue, with a decision due by August 8, six months before the first race.

The Swiss reportedly are considering Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, apparently feeling that their catamaran would excel in the light wind and flat water.

BMW Oracle Racing will counter with a 90ft trimaran. The space age-looking trimaran has been in the boatshed since March for significant modifications. The trimaran has gone through three rounds of testing, first in Anacortes, Washington, and then on the Pacific Ocean off San Diego.

With the size and speed of the giant multihulls, it could be the most spectacular racing in the 158-year history of the America's Cup.

BMW Oracle Racing's trimaran's mast is as high as a 16-storey building and the mainsail is twice the size of a Boeing 747's wing. The boat's three hulls would cover the diamond on a major league baseball field.

Boats that size can be lethal, too. BMW Oracle Racing's sailors have been cautious while sailing their big boat, including wearing crash helmets and life vests.

There's been speculation that BMW Oracle Racing, owned by software tycoon Larry Ellison, is building a second boat.

The Swiss have been secretly building their boat amid rumours it was a catamaran. In late April, a French employee of BMW Oracle Racing was detained by police after Alinghi employees saw him taking pictures at their boatyard.

"This multihull is nothing like you've ever seen before in a big boat," Alinghi strategist and design team member Murray Jones said.

"It's like a small boat but scaled up. It's a highly tuned and engineered boat that's light. It's a piece of art."

Known as Alinghi 5, the catamaran has evolved from 35ft and 41ft catamarans favoured by the Swiss.

- AP

- NZ Herald

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