Alinghi Takes the Cup Back to Europe

Stuart Streuli

The fat lady is yodeling. The Team New Zealand era of America's Cup supremacy came to an inauspicious close today when the Alinghi Challenge of Switzerland won the fifth and deciding race against an overmatched Kiwi defense in the 31st contest for sailing's oldest prize.

On a stunning day for sailboat racing on the turquoise waters of the Hauraki Gulf, the former TNZ skipper Russell Coutts--with able support from his longtime wingman, Brad Butterworth--put forth yet another flawless effort to win the America’s Cup for the third consecutive time. In doing so, he also recorded his fourteenth victory in Cup competition, setting a new mark for excellence in the event and cementing his reputation as one of the top skippers in the Cup’s storied history.

For the third time in five races, Coutts and his mates also received help from their Kiwi opponents, who once again suffered gear damage aboard their disappointing, fragile NZL-82. This time it was a broken spinnaker pole on the race’s second downwind run. At that juncture, however, the Swiss squad already had the race well under control.

In fact, they took command at the outset and never allowed the New Zealanders the opportunity to win at least one race in a regatta in which they never got on track.

With a steady northeast breeze of 13 to 15 knots, racing commenced on schedule with the Swiss entering the starting box from starboard and the Kiwis coming in from port. In perhaps their only small mistake of the series, Alinghi was a tad late on their approach allowing the Kiwis to cross on port tack and dictate the early action.

With just under two minutes to the starting gun, Team New Zealand was well positioned to leeward of Alinghi as both boats hardened up for the final approach. But Coutts and Butterworth timed their dash to the line perfectly, crossing the line to weather of NZL-82 at speed as the starting rifle fired.

The Swiss had a lead they’d never relinquish.

In the ideal mid-range conditions, Alinghi was once again in perfect synch and launched off the line, sailing both faster and higher than their Kiwi counterparts. And once again, Butterworth had his boat ideally situated for the first windshift of the leg, a slight righty that almost immediately added to their early lead.

Five minutes into the race, Butterworth reported to Coutts the precise information he wanted to hear: "A little higher, a little quicker." It was a trend that would continue for the duration of the race.

At the top mark, the wind had veered a full 17 degrees from the starting direction of 025 and the Swiss boat rounded 21 seconds ahead of the Kiwis. With aggressive sailing on the first run and a pair of excellent jibes, the New Zealanders closed that delta to 18 seconds.

At least theoretically, the Kiwis were still in the race. And to their credit, they never gave up. But on this day, and in this regatta, they never truly had a chance.

Working up the second beat, the Kiwis initiated a tacking duel but Alinghi matched them at every turn. Still, at the midway point of the race the New Zealanders had shaved another two seconds off Alinghi’s lead, rounding 16 seconds in arrears.

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| Stuart Streuli|

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| Hoping to mix things up a bit, Team New Zealand set an asymmetric spinnaker on Leg 4 while Alinghi flew a symmetric chute. It didn't help close the gap.* * *|

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As on the first run, Alinghi once again set a symmetrical spinnaker. But the New Zealanders, at this juncture quickly running out of options, hoisted a symmetrical chute. Two thirds of the way down the run, however, the pole’s outboard end shattered after making contact with the headstay. The error helped the Swiss-flagged boat to open up a lead of 31 seconds.

Clearly, history was being made on the Hauraki Gulf.

Only a catastrophic breakdown could’ve prevented the result that was now inevitable. As cloud cover descended over the waters, Coutts kept Alinghi on course for the final windward-leeward to win the Cup with a performance for the ages. As the champagne bottles were being passed aboard Alinghi, NZL-82 crossed the finish line with a clear view of the Swiss boat’s transom. The final delta was 45 seconds.

With hindsight, it was never really that close. Now, for the first time in over a century-and-a-half, the America’s Cup is bound for Europe. And Team New Zealand will be left with the long, tough task of figuring out what exactly went wrong. "They completely dominated us," said the Kiwi skipper, Dean Barker, who sailed admirably but whose steed could not compete with the all-around excellence of Alinghi. "They put together a faultless performance."

There was nothing else to say.