Louis Vuitton Pacific Series

/SW/'s event coverage includes reports by Angus Phillip and Derby Anderson, photos by Daniel Forster, and more.

Team Shosholoza training in Auckland with the Skytower in the backgroundGiuliano Luzzatto/Shosholoza

In response to the ongoing America's Cup legal dispute, Emirates Team New Zealand, with help from the New Zealand Government, BMW Oracle Racing, and others, has organized the 2009 Louis Vuitton Pacific Series. From Jan. 30 to Feb. 14, 2009, off Auckland, New Zealand, 10 America's Cup syndicates will complete 72 short-course match races sailing borrowed boats. The event culminates with a Cup Final between host Emirates Team New Zealand and the top challenger.

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Feb. 13, 2009

Alinghi Takes One On A Jammer
It hadn't been so hot in Auckland since 1882. Kiwis schvitzed like sumo wrestlers Thursday as the mercury hit 95 (34.2 degrees Celsius). The sticky tropical heat wave finally broke overnight when skies cleared and the wind went south, bringing cooler, gusty winds from Antarctica.

Daniel Forster| |Alinghi draws first blood in its highly anticipated meeting with Emirates Team New Zealand.| That put conditions for the first day of racing in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series final on this, the morning of Friday the 13th, right on the edge-20 knots of wind with gusts to 25. Swiss Alinghi and Emirates Team New Zealand squared off at 11 a.m. as whitecaps whipped across Waitemata Harbor. You could hear the rigs groan on every tack.

It was all the wind anyone wanted, maybe more than the Kiwis did. The home-town heroes managed to hand away a powerful prestart advantage, found themselves behind at the first cross and trailed Alinghi around the weather mark by a scant 12 seconds. That's attacking range, but they lost all chance to overtake when their spinnaker halyard let go and the big asymmetrical kite came tumbling halfway to the deck on a wild downwind run.

"We were ready to jump them on the jibe," said TNZ tactician Ray Davies. "We had a nice puff but the halyard blew out of the jammer and right off a cleat and they got clear." Alinghi went on to win by 22 seconds.

It was all the racing organizers could manage as gusts subsequently piped up to 30 knots. Racing was suspended till Saturday and the series was reduced from best-of-seven to best-of-five. "It would have been nice to have seven races, with all the people here to watch," said Davies. "But we only have to win the last one. That's our goal."

These LVPS finals are like fresh meat to starving Kiwi fans, who watched Alinghi trounce ETNZ, 5-2, 19 months ago to win the America's Cup in Valencia, Spain. They two teams haven't raced since. New Zealand's chance at redemption now comes down to one day, with a one-race disadvantage, as the pair square off again in matched Cup-class boats Saturday. The weather is expected to moderate, but breezes will remain fresh.

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If the thought of International America's Cup Class boats bashing around in 25 knots of wind surprises you, it should. In 2000, when the Cup first was held here, even 18 knots of breeze left crewmen quaking and shaking. "We've come a long way in construction and design since then," said Davies. "The boats are a lot stronger and we've learned how to sail them better."

Still, spectators could hear alarms sounding on the boats as crews jacked up the maximum 13.5 tons of pressure onto backstays going upwind. Sirens are rigged to go off if rigs are overtensioned above that mark; as soon as they sound, crews are required to ease the load or be tossed by umpires. Everyone complied.

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Is Alinghi really Alinghi? The name never appears on the Swiss entry here, which is one more way Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli shows his displeasure with the regatta. Bertarelli initially didn't want to compete but agreed after ETNZ offered to drop a lawsuit against the Swiss Cupholders.

Since arriving, the Swiss have needled their hosts at every opportunity. They flew a Maori independence flag out to the race course on Waitangi Day, the Kiwi equivalent of July 4; their uniforms when racing the Kiwis are black, the New Zealand national color; they refused to race Team New Zealand in the round robins since no points were offered for beating the host team, and now they identify themselves only as "Switzerland" on the team logo. Bad feelings, it appears, will not go away here.

"They don't like the fact we're holding this regatta," said attorney Jim Farmer, director of Team New Zealand. "We get letters from them threatening to sue us all the time."

--Angus Phillips

Baird Commands Coutts in Finals Opener

Switzerland triumphed in a face-off between America's Cup winners Ed Baird and Russell Coutts this morning. Steering Switzerland's Alinghi, Baird slammed the gate on Coutts and BMW Oracle on the start line and went on to win the challenger finals of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series 2-0. Tomorrow Alinghi meets host Emirates Team New Zealand at the beginning of a two-day, seven-race regatta for the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series trophy.

Today's race marked the end of 13 days of high-energy match racing to select a finalist to race against Emirates Team New Zealand. The home team raced in two round robins with nine international teams from eight countries but sat out the sail-off series that finished today. Yesterday, the Swiss team, skippered by Kiwi Brad Butterworth with Baird steering, pulled off a shock victory against Coutts and his American team. Coutts had led the entire race but lost by one second.

"You can always reflect on things that might have been and yesterday I think perhaps we got a little complacent at the end of the race," Coutts said. "The finishing line was heavily biased towards the committee boat end and it is a pretty elementary thing to spot, but we sort of missed that, so that was our fatal error."

Today, with the threat of heavy wind this afternoon, racing started early in a 15-knot northerly and for Coutts and the Americans it was over before the start gun fired as Baird blocked his approach to the start line. Oracle had enjoyed the advantage of the right hand entry at the five minute gun and engaged Alinghi in a couple of tight circles, the boats only metres apart.

With 1:30 remaining, both boats were lining up for the start inside the starboard layline with Oracle astern and to weather. As they approached the line Baird remained on starboard but pointed his bow straight at the committee boat. Coutts had nowhere to go and went head to wind as Baird bore off at speed right close to the committee boat. Coutts could only follow slowly dead astern in his opponent's wake. The American boat was trailing by 40 metres just moments after the start and never threatened Alinghi as the margin opened out to 58 seconds at the second weather mark and over a minute at the finish.

"We were in quite a nice position today and had plenty of time to assess the options coming on the final approach to the start," Coutts said ruefully. "We burned up a little too much time when we didn't need to."

Asked if problems with his boat's trim tab affected steering during the start, Coutts acknowledged that there was a problem with its control chain a couple of minutes before the start.

"That's not why we lost though," he said emphatically. "No excuses. We lost the race." Asked if he'd return to New Zealand for a similar event, Coutts said: "I thoroughly enjoyed the racing over the last few weeks. I think it's a fantastic event and I think in these economic times the idea that Louis Vuitton and Emirates Team New Zealand have come up with where all the teams race in borrowed boats, rather than shipping boats all around the world is frankly a commercial reality. There's no question in my mind that this format works, it's something that should be looked at in future."

--Keith Taylor, LVPS Press Officer

Feb. 12, 2009

BMW Oracle Out, ETNZ and Alinghi Will Go to the Mat

Class. Russell Coutts showed it in spades today as he and BMW Oracle bowed out of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series, leaving archrivals Emirates Team New Zealand and Swiss Alinghi to battle in a best-of-seven final for the trophy.

Daniel Forster| |Russell Coutts was gracious in the narrow defeat by his former teammate.| The three-time America's Cup champion lost a heartbreaker to Alinghi in the first race of best-of-three challenger finals Wednesday, falling by one second after leading all race when Oracle mistakenly went for a massively unfavored pin end at the finish. Complaints? None. "We perhaps got a little complacent," said Coutts. "We missed it (the bias). A bad mistake."

Today was worse. With 1½ minutes to the start and Alinghi and Oracle side-by-side approaching the line, the chain controlling the trim tab on the Oracle team's boat broke loose, sharply affecting maneuverability. Coutts trailed across the line and never caught up, but only acknowledged the breakdown later, when asked. "We lost the race," he said. "No excuses. Congratulations to Brad and Alinghi."

Coutts has been purged from the America's Cup since 2003, when he won as Alinghi's skipper. Bad relations with Swiss boss Ernesto Bertarelli subsequently drove him from the team and Bertarelli made sure Coutts couldn't compete at all in 2007. But if bad blood lingers, you wouldn't know it from Coutts's behavior here, which was impeccable. It's a trait that's been sorely missing in the America's Cup.

Now comes the match every Kiwi sailing fan has awaited, as Alinghi and Emirates Team New Zealand square off in equal boats for a rematch of their Cup final in Valencia 19 months ago, which Alinghi won 5-2.

"It's not really a rematch because we're sailing different boats," counseled Butterworth. "But the competition should be good and I look forward to it."

Alinghi and ETNZ will sail a matched pair of ETNZ boats, with the Kiwis in NZL 84, the older one, and the Swiss in NZL 92. Bertarelli loudly complained here that 84 was slower, so when Butterworth won the draw and got to pick which boat he'd sail, there was a sigh of relief. Many feared Alinghi would make an issue of it if they drew 84. The Kiwis have maintained all along that the two boats are nearly identical in performance.

With big winds forecast Friday, race organizers hope to get in two or three races, then finish off the series before a big spectator crowd on Saturday.

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Despite his early exit, Coutts had kind words for the regatta. "I'd love to come back," he said. "It's been a fantastic event, and in these economic times, the format with borrowed boats is a commercial reality."

He also said he didn't regret leaving some top crewmen, including John Kostecki, James Spithill and trimmer Ross Halcrow, back in San Diego, working up a giant trimaran to sail if ongoing court proceedings mandate a Deed of Gift Cup match in multihulls. "Any group you put together for the first time will take some time working out the combinations. Maybe it's not so cohesive, so attuned to each other, but we had a team capable of winning. We just didn't put it together on the day."

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Sailing isn't the only competition here. There's also the battle of the bottles, as one wag dubbed it. When Oracle team leaders realized the regatta was fast coming to an end, they hastily put together a beer and nibbles party the other night on their sponsor barge, open to all competitors. Not to be outdone, Alinghi hosted an even bigger one the next night at O'Hagens Bar in the Viaduct Basin. Next?

Well, next will have to wait at least a day for sailing writers and photographers, as tonight is the semi-irregular intergalactic meeting of the Society of International Nautical Scribes, which normally is held on the first lay-day of the America's Cup. With the future of the Cup in limbo and the average age of SINS members rising precipitously, a special exception was made to slip a session in here.
-Angus Phillips

Alinghi Will Race Emirates Team New Zealand

Switzerland triumphed in a face-off between America's Cup winners Ed Baird and Russell Coutts this morning. Steering Switzerland's Alinghi, Baird slammed the gate on Coutts and BMW Oracle on the start line and went on to win the challenger finals of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series 2-0.

Tomorrow Alinghi meets host Emirates Team New Zealand at the beginning of a two-day, seven-race regatta for the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series trophy. Today's race marked the end of 13 days of high-energy match racing to select a finalist to race against Emirates Team New Zealand.

The home team raced in two round robins with nine international teams from eight countries but sat out the sail-off series that finished today. Yesterday, the Swiss team, skippered by Kiwi Brad Butterworth with Baird steering, pulled off a shock victory against Coutts and his American team. Coutts had led the entire race but lost by one second.

"You can always reflect on things that might have been and yesterday I think perhaps we got a little complacent at the end of the race," Coutts said. "The finishing line was heavily biased towards the committee boat end and it is a pretty elementary thing to spot, but we sort of missed that, so that was our fatal error."

Today, with the threat of heavy wind this afternoon, racing started early in a 15-knot northerly and for Coutts and the Americans it was over before the start gun fired as Baird blocked his approach to the start line. Oracle had enjoyed the advantage of the right hand entry at the five minute gun and engaged Alinghi in a couple of tight circles, the boats only metres apart. With 1:30 remaining, both boats were lining up for the start inside the starboard layline with Oracle astern and to weather. As they approached the line Baird remained on starboard but pointed his bow straight at the committee boat. Coutts had nowhere to go and went head to wind as Baird bore off at speed right close to the committee boat. Coutts could only follow slowly dead astern in his opponent's wake.

The American boat was trailing by 40 metres just moments after the start and never threatened Alinghi as the margin opened out to 58 seconds at the second weather mark and over a minute at the finish "We were in quite a nice position today and had plenty of time to assess the options coming on the final approach to the start," Coutts said ruefully.

"We burned up a little too much time when we didn't need to." Asked if problems with his boat's trim tab affected steering during the start, Coutts acknowledged that there was a problem with its control chain a couple of minutes before the start. "That's not why we lost though," he said emphatically. "No excuses. We lost the race."

Asked if he'd return to New Zealand for a similar event, Coutts said: "I thoroughly enjoyed the racing over the last few weeks. I think it's a fantastic event and I think in these economic times the idea that Louis Vuitton and Emirates Team New Zealand have come up with where all the teams race in borrowed boats, rather than shipping boats all around the world is frankly a commercial reality. There's no question in my mind that this format works, it's something that should be looked at in future."

-LVPS Press Officer Keith Taylor

Feb. 11, 2009

Coutts' Magic Runs Short Against Alinghi, But Oracle Is Still Alive

Russell Coutts may have magic but he's not perfect. In a staggering reversal, Coutts first reestablished his peerless touch at the helm of an America's Cup class boat with back-to-back wins to stave off sudden death in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series, then fell hard once pressure was off.

Daniel Forster| |Tactician Hamish Pepper admitted that he and his BMW Oracle Racing teammates failed to realize that the race committee had moved the finish line during the team's first match against Alinghi in the challenger finals.| "We weren't aware they would do that," admitted Hamish Pepper, tactician on Coutts's BMW Oracle. Pepper and the otherwise flawless Oracle team didn't realize race organizers would re-lay the finish line to square it with a wind shift in Wednesday's final race. When they went to polish off archrival Alinghi in their first semifinal challenger Wednesday afternoon, they bore up for a pin on the finish line that was 100 meters farther away than they expected.

It was exactly three meters too far as Alinghi, which had trailed all day, shot by the committee boat to take a gun even they didn't expect. Alinghi was three boat-lengths behind when the two crossed gybes the final time. Spectators were stunned. The only good news for Oracle: "We're still where we were," said Pepper. "We need two wins to advance. Nothing has changed."

"Schoolboy error," grumbled veteran race-watcher Bob Fisher. "No excuse."

Daniel Forster| |Even though BMW Oracle Racing led most of the race, Alinghi slipped in front at the last second when the Americans misjudged the finish line.| Principal Race Officer Peter Reggio said he was following race rules. If the wind shifts substantially, as it did, the weather mark is moved and the finish gets re-set to square with the new course. That meant moving the pin back from its original position. "We should have known they'd move it," agreed Pepper.

"We were fortunate benefactors of that mistake," said Alinghi skipper Ed Baird. "It's a good thing we kept it close."

The shocker put a damper on a remarkable day when Coutts engineered a perfect penalty turn at the finish line against Luna Rossa to win that race by a scant nine seconds, then put away Damiana Italia handily to advance to best-of-three semifinals against Alinghi.

The winner advances to the weekend final against host Emirates team New Zealand. Can Coutts rally? Stay tuned. Racing resumes Thursday.

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Damiani's loss means the end of the line for skipper Vasco Vascotto, a surprise success story in his team's maiden Cup-class regatta. Even if he hadn't made it to quarterfinals, Vascotto would have brought joy to the proceedings. His is a face rarely caught unsmiling, and the curly-haired Triestino kept the mood light every time he popped up at a press conference or a party.

"We are Italians," he said. "When we are happy, the whole world knows we are happy. When we are sad, the whole world knows we are sad." He got to experience both emotions, first beating Britain's Team Origin to stay alive, then falling to BMW Oracle to end a remarkable run.

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The media center filled up early today as lawyers, chiefs and Indians from America's Cup teams joined the press to watch a live feed of Cup court proceedings from New York on big screen TV via the internet. Grant Dalton of Emirates Team New Zealand plopped down alongside Luis Saenz of Luna Rossa at 8 a.m.

Things went fine until the feed started broke down at 8:45. "Blame the government," said Dalton. "They won't clear out enough broadband space. When everybody gets to work in Auckland and turns on their computers, it all falls apart."

Saenz, a lawyer, said he had no idea who won the arguments between attorneys for Ernesto Bertarelli, Larry Ellison and the challenger of record, Club Nautico Espanol de Vela, but he offered one measure to guess by: "American lawyers tell me whoever gets asked the most questions by the judges is probably going to lose." By that count, it looks grim for Ellison.

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Speaking of Italians, a happy one here is Carolo Bottini, a writer from Milan, who says the food in New Zealand is the best for the price he's found anywhere in the world. I concur. Seafood, lamb, vegetables, dairy products and fruit here are fresh and inexpensive.

But you haven't really established anything on the subject of food until you check with someone from France. "I agree about the ingredients," said Christine Belanger, who spends most of her time in Paris as a top executive for Vuitton. "They are the best, and very cheap. But I am not so happy with the way New Zealand prepares them. They do too much. You don't need to. It's so fresh, just pop it on the grill and serve it."

The French arguing against sauce? Who'd have dreamed it?

-Angus Phillips

Feb. 10, 2009

AC Death Match in Auckland

"Instant death-I love it!"

So chirped Bruno Trouble, organizer of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series, at the start of sudden death matches to pick a challenger for the LV Cup in Auckland today. But it was more like slow death as morning zephyrs gave way to afternoon wisps and just two of five scheduled matches went off.

Still, spectators saw the closest finish of America's Cup boats in anyone's memory when struggling Luna Rossa held off China with a frantic penalty turn at the finish to win by 20 centimeters-one foot! It was so close, radio listeners waited two minutes before anyone called a winner; broadcasters on the water held their breaths.

"We need a lie-down and a cup of tea after that one," said announcer Ross Blackman.

"If the pole counts, we win," said China skipper Ian Williams afterwards. "If the spinnaker counts, we win. But here, it's which hull crosses first, and they win." And China goes home. "We just wish the regatta was a week longer," said Williams, whose fledgling team has been coming along.

The wins send Origin forward against Damiani Italia and Luna Rossa, winless in Round Robin 2, up against BMW Oracle to reach the quarterfinals, but those sudden-death matches were put off till Wednesday as a fluky morning northwester gave out on a misty, showery, warm, buggy afternoon. It was so still, boats were invaded by millions of no-see-ums that wafted off shore then landed and perished on deck, a phenomenon locals said they'd never seen.

Meantime, race teams chugged along in puffs, hoping for an afternoon breeze to restart the affair. No such luck. "Luigi (principal race officer Peter Reggio) says the boats are just hobbyhorsing, not charging along," said umpire Wayne Boberg. "That's fine for a lottery, not for a boat race."

Today's shift in intensity came suddenly for some. "You go along for two weeks, nice and easy, with one race a day," said Origin navigator Peter Isler. "Then all of a sudden you've got three races in one day and if you lose any of them, you're dead."

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The change in the weather was no surprise to Grant Dalton, boss of Emirates Team New Zealand, whose crew waits to race the survivor of the challenger series in a best-of-three final showdown Saturday. "I've lived in Auckland long enough to know it couldn't last," he said of 10 straight days of solid sailing breezes that left the regatta right on schedule with four days to go.

Dalton was around in 2003 when the America's Cup match was delayed for over a week by either too much or too little wind. That led to the observation that Auckland's winds averaged about 14 knots, as promised, but only because half the time it blew 30 here and the other half it blew 2.

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America's Cup Management, the outfit that will organize a multi-challenger regatta if the New York court case holding up the Cup ever gets settled, offered a view of the new class of boats being developed for the next regatta. "It's a 26-meter sport boat," said Tom Schnackenberg, the veteran Cup designer who helped develop the rule over the last three months.

Schnackenberg said the current class "is starting to look inbred," as all designers fall into line designing long, heavy, incredibly narrow vessels. The AC 33 class will be wider, longer, up to 2 or 3 knots faster downwind with spinnakers unlimited in size but with smaller, non-overlapping jibs. He expects the boats to sail higher angles downwind, and said they'll be wide enough to support twin rudders.

With rules limiting teams to building only one boat, Schnackenberg reckons a team can field a competitive entry for one-third the cost of the two-boat campaigns in 2007-about 30 million euros instead of 100 million.

-Angus Phillips

British, Italian Teams Earn Quarter Final Berths

Pre-race favorite teams battled ferociously in the Rangitoto Channel today to secure their places in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series quarter finals to be sailed tomorrow.

Italy's Luna Rossa skippered by Peter Holmberg pulled out a heart-stopping one-second win over the China Team while Britain's TEAMORIGIN was under the gun until skipper Ben Ainslie scored a penalty against France's Pataugas K-Challenge in a spinnaker luffing confrontation that took them far above their proper course.

With just four days of competition remaining, TEAMORIGIN will race tomorrow against Damiani Italy Challenge in one quarter final match. The other quarter final will be America's BMW Oracle Racing against Luna Rossa. Weather permitting, the semi finalists will race tomorrow to determine who will race the top seed Swiss boat Alinghi in the Challenger Final. The winning challenger will meet Emirates Team New Zealand in a seven-race match on Friday and Saturday.

-LVPS Press Officer Keith Taylor

Feb. 9, 2009

Coutts Tries to Re-Learn Old Tricks, While Butterworth Has No Such Trouble

Daniel Forster| |BMW Oracle skipper Russell Coutts (at helm) admits he has been a little rusty steering AC boats for the first time since 2003.| Coutts is human! He says so himself. BMW Oracle skipper Russell Coutts conceded at the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series in Auckland that he's rusty and making mistakes. "It's the little things. I haven't been in these (Cup) boats since 2003 and it's taking some time."

When he dialed up Britain's Team Origin in a prestart Friday, "I was too close by about half a boat," said the three-time America's Cup champion. When the parallel boats peeled out on opposite tacks, Origin's stern scraped Oracle's hull. Oracle, on port, got the penalty and a point deduction for hard contact.

"I knew we were too close," said Coutts, who's never lost in a Cup final match. "Once you're there, you think, 'I should be over there,' but it's too late, you can't get there."

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Ernesto is back stirring the pot. Beleaguered Cupholder Ernesto Bertarelli arrived Saturday for a two-day visit and walked into a tempest over his team's last-minute refusal to race Emirates Team New Zealand here. ETNZ was an extra in the round-robins, guaranteed a spot in the final as host team, so wins over them carried no points.

Alinghi, undefeated in RR 2 and thus guaranteed a spot in challenger finals, decided it was too risky to race ETNZ with no chance to gain a point but an outside chance of a deduction if there were a collision. It was all risk, no reward, said Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth.

Alinghi's no-show left TNZ to sail the course alone and infuriated home-town fans itching to see the first matchup since the Swiss dispatched the Kiwis, 5-2, in the 2007 Cup in Spain. ETNZ skipper Dean Barker called it unsporting, disgusting, insulting, and disrespectful. Team leader Grant Dalton said Butterworth "unites New Zealanders as no politician can. Everybody hates him."

Bertarelli said it was standard procedure-why race with nothing to gain? He later shut the door on negotiating with BMW Oracle's Larry Ellison here about their ongoing court fight over the next Cup. Final arguments are due Tuesday in New York Appeals Court in Albany, with a ruling due in a month or so. If Oracle wins it'll be a "dog-match" in giant multihulls, Bertarelli said; if Alinghi wins, a traditional regatta in Valencia with up to 18 teams but no BMW Oracle. "They chose not to enter," he sniffed.

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Party Time: Regatta organizer Louis Vuitton threw a great one Saturday night at Orakei Marae, the Maori meeting house on a sloping patch of hillside overlooking Waitemata Harbor. Teams, media, and organizers were greeted by warriors in full war garb ferociously swinging clubs and spears, then invited in for soft Polynesian songs and speeches. Songs from Tony Rae of Team New Zealand, Vasco Vascotto of Daimiani Italia ("Volare"), and some vintage Edith Piaf from Vuitton's Bruno Trouble and his wife and son followed. It's not every day you get Cup sailors to warble in public.

A three-quarter moon popped up, bathing the sea silver under volcanic Rangitoto Island. Corks popped on magnums of Moet-Chandon and wood fires pulsated. All the basic elements were there: Earth, wind, sea, fire. Oh, yes, and Champagne. And lovely women, dressed to kill.

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Team Origin, the high-flying British entry, enjoyed an undefeated first round-robin, then lost three of five races in RR2. But skipper Mike Sanderson reckons the Brits are sailing better every day. They sailed a nice race Sunday to beat Coutts and BMW Oracle, winning the start by a half-length, then surviving a close brush up the first beat when Origin's Ben Ainslie tacked close to Coutts's water. Too close? Umpires thought not, which is all that counts. Origin made no mistakes the rest of the way.

Quarterfinals start Tuesday. Under a bewilderingly complex but scrupulously fair format, everyone but bottom-markers Greece and Shosholoza still stands a chance to advance to the final against TNZ, but it's sudden death from now till challenger finals as the four lowest seeds square off for the right to advance. You lose, you're out, which should make for spirited racing.

-Angus Phillips

More Intense Competition Waiting Around the Corner?

While watching Shosholoza and the Greeks battle it out for last place today, South African grinder Vern Neville described it as a race "to see who gets the wooden spoon." Neither team was itching to compete under the circumstances, but Corinthian spirit prevailed (with a little nudge by the organizers). After that race, under a cloudy sky and a lengthy postponement, attention turned to more pressing matters…like tabloids. Only in a New Zealand paper would there be a two-page spread of pictures from Wednesday's Louis Vuitton black-tie gala, with Dean and Mandy Barker being dubbed "the most beautiful couple in sailing." At Saturday's big LV party, there was a little less glamor but a fantastic scene. As the moon rose and Rangitoto Island floated on sparkling waters, sailors took yet another chance to enjoy themselves this regatta. Some teams had to race the next day, but BMW Oracle navigator Michele Ivaldi suspected the festivities would work in his favor, as he said Alinghi sailors love to drink. Neither of those teams made it as late as Team China and Shosholoza, who tore it up on the dance floor until the early morning.

Another sailor who loves a good time is Peter Isler, who brought his guitar out on the TeamOrigin chaseboat with him today while waiting for his match. Media boat rider Justin Chisholm agreed that this event has a cruisy feel. "It's a bit of a love fest isn't it?" However with typical British doom and gloom, he continued, "But it feels like one of those muggy days when you know something bad is just around the corner." It was quite muggy today in a literal sense, but I hope his prediction is wrong. Maybe we can say he was referring to the long term, as Vern Neville was when assessing the current atmosphere in Cup boat racing. "Right now it's pretty relaxed, but I guarantee you when the Cup comes around it will tighten up. People will be mostly with their own teams and there will be secrets."

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the sudden-death sail off, so we'll see how much love these boys can muster now that the competition heats up.

-Derby Anderson

Cup Racers are Ready for Challenger Sail-off

Racing in the Challenger Sail-off stage of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Cup takes place on Auckland's Waitemata Harbour Tuesday following the completion of Gold Fleet competition today.

Two sudden-death races will be sailed to decide which boats will go through to complete the lineup for the challenger quarter finals.

In competition today, Switzerland's Alinghi won her fourth Gold Fleet race to cement her already-confirmed top seeding and an automatic berth in the challenger final. She won handily against the Italian boat Luna Rossa.

Daniel Forster| |After Team Origin was over early, Damiani Italia Challenger advanced to the first quarter final.| Newcomer Damiani Italia Challenge scored an upset victory over British Olympic medalist Ben Ainslie on TEAMORIGIN after he broke the start line and had to return to restart. The victory guaranteed Damiani a place in the first quarter final on Wednesday

Host team Emirates Team New Zealand sailed in their final race before taking their place as a Louis Vuitton Pacific Series finalist next Saturday but succumbed to their old nemesis Russell Coutts at the wheel of BMW Oracle Racing. Oracle's win took them to a berth in the other quarter final on Wednesday.

TEAMORIGIN will race tomorrow against France's seventh-seeded Pataugas K-Challenge to decide the quarter finalist to meet Damiani Italia Challenge. In the other match, Luna Rossa will race against sixth-seeded China Team for the right to race against BMW Oracle Racing in the other quarter final.

The eighth and ninth seeds, Greek Challenge and Team Shosholoza sailed their final match today to determine their final placing in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series. The newcomer Greek Team, skippered by Kiwi Gavin Brady won, to place ninth overall. The South African Team Shosholoza with Italian match racer Paolo Cian at the helm is tenth overall.

-LVPS Press Officer Keith Taylor

Feb. 6, 2009

In Between Races, There's Plenty of Time to Fraternize

Asked a month ago if he'd go to Auckland for the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series, Terry Hutchinson said it sounded like too much sitting around as 10 teams bounced between four boats.

You don't get to be Rolex Yachtsman of the Year wasting time, I suppose, but downtime has an upside. "There are places in the world where downtime could be a problem," said Alinghi skipper Ed Baird, "but this isn't one of them." He said Alinghi sailors are carving out family time or heading to beaches or golf courses to enjoy the rare, half-day work schedules.

With no boat upkeep to do and just one, hour-long race a day, the clock slows as it never does in the America's Cup, where if you're not scheming every minute, someone else is.

"It's a nice, friendly environment for people to catch up with their mates," said Jenny Cooper, shore manager for Team China. "More than half our people are from New Zealand, so they know where to go to golf, hike, or play tennis." BMW Oracle skipper Russell Coutts has played some 7 a.m. tennis matches before heading to Viaduct Harbor.

Andy Horton, tactician on Italy's Luna Rossa, reckons it's more off-time than he'd choose, "But if that's the price you pay for getting to sail even boats against the top sailors in the world, it's worth it. I really like the format."

                                         *                           *                               *  

Daniel Forster| |**Team Origin goes shrimping during Round Robin 2. Forestay trouble would force the team to retire from the race. **| BMW Oracle got an early Valentine on Friday when Team Origin couldn't get the jib up at the first leeward mark. Headfoil problems forced the British, who had a small lead, to retire. Origin navigator Peter Isler said crews are expected to check everything on the boats before the start, and if something breaks after that it's tough luck, even with borrowed boats. "You hope the luck evens out in the end," he said.

To make matters worse, Origin had to absorb a half-point penalty and BMW Oracle lost a full point for "hard contact" in the prestart. The two collided as they bore apart from a dial-up, with Origin's transom grazing Oracle's hull as Oracle bore off onto port tack while Origin went onto starboard. Origin protested its deduction and was to argue for redress; Oracle accepted its penalty.

                                       *                           *                               *  

Team Shosholoza survived a harrowing moment Thursday. The spinnaker clew blew out when they set the big asymmetrical kite on the last run against China. The sail streamed out in front of the boat in 14 knots of wind. With no way to gather it in, the South Africans cut the halyard and the sail streamed aft and settled into the water. But when the halyard-end hit the mast-top it jammed and the waterlogged sail lifted from the sea like a half-drowned whale, the shock load threatening to yank the rig down.

It was a disaster in the making until quick-thinking folks on the Shosholoza support boat zoomed in between the race boat and the dragging sail and someone reached high to deftly cut the halyard, freeing the kite, which was picked up. The remains of the halyard flailed behind the boat all the way to the finish.

Obviously, it was outside help to Shosholoza and China dutifully flew a protest flag, but the protest was withdrawn after China won its first victory of the regatta. Race organizers applauded the sense of the support boat people, who wisely broke the rules to avert a costly mess.

                                          *                           *                               *  

Boats are meant to be equal in match racing, but of course America's Cup boats never are, as it's a development class, not one-design. The first Round Robin produced mild cries of inequality as New Zealand's NZL 84 won only two of 10 matchups against NZL 92.

"Our boats are as equal as we can get them," said TNZ technical director Nick Holroyd, pointing to spreadsheets showing a performance difference of just one to two meters per kilometer, depending on conditions.

Still, conspiracy theories abounded. Then on Day 1 of Round Robin 2, 84 beat 92 two of three times. The new theory was that something had been done in the break between rounds to speed up 84. Holroyd just chuckled. "Nothing to it," he said. "We haven't changed a thing."

--Angus Phillips

Feb. 5, 2009

Warning, Warning, You're Trying Too Hard!

A big concern at the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series is keeping race boats intact. With 10 teams whipping four boats around in up to 25 knots of breeze here in Auckland, aging IACC vessels take a pounding. Organizers developed a way of keeping inexperienced crews from getting overzealous.

Each boat is rigged with a screech alarm that goes off if the forestay or backstay loads are tensioned over 13.5 tons. If the alarm sounds and isn't quickly addressed by easing, the offending yacht can be tossed.

The system is partly designed to protect the boats, partly to equalize performance. In the America's Cup, rigs are tensioned as high as 15 tons; the tighter they go in heavy breeze, the better the upwind performance. Tteams have to balance risk vs. reward on their own boats, but in borrowed ones

Another innovation is a pair of aluminum poles rigged to poke out the stern about four feet. In racing, they're considered part of the boat and if you hit them, it's a collision without the damage. Gavin Brady on the Greek Team whacked the poles on opening day, racing against Alinghi, then plowed right through and touched the transom, doing minor damage. Brady's team later said they'd had a hard time seeing the poles despite orange tips, so the next day bright yellow lines were rigged between the tips. There hasn't been an incident since.

                                               *                             *                                  *  

Even with good wind, as we've had, a regatta is only as good as its shoreside activities. The LVPS is on a tight budget but there's still room for a hood ornament or two, which is where Patrick Moreau comes in.

Moreau, who lives in Brittany, is a widely acclaimed rigger of old boats who works the classic yacht regattas in the Mediterranean. In his spare time he makes intricate baubles and knick-knacks with string. LVPS organizer Bruno Trouble calls him "le roi de la ficelle"-the king of string.

The gray-haired, tanned Moreau had never been in the Southern Hemisphere, so he jumped when Trouble invited him down to work his magic quayside. Each racing day, Moreau props up two packs of Lucky Strikes, his bag of strings and his Bible, Clifford Ashley's Book of Knots, and makes bracelets, earrings and rings of string for ladies passing by.

"I have nothing to sell," he says in thickly accented English. "I charge nothing."

Not quite true. Moreau surprised one pretty customer by placing a string bracelet on her hand that took 20 minutes to make, then announcing, "That will be two."

"Two?" she asked.

"Two," he said, pointing to each cheek. She happily complied, pecking him twice.

                                               *                             *                                  *  

Weekdays have been lightly attended by spectators but that changes Friday, when the country is off for Waitangi Day, a national holiday commemorating the signing of the first treaty between British settlers and Maori natives at the Bay of Islands in 1840. B-Sports live radio goes out nationwide for the first time in this land where almost everyone sails or knows someone who does, and a big spectator fleet is expected.

                                               *                             *                                  *  

Racing was delayed for hours Thursday by shifty winds but the sea breeze came in hard for the last match between BMW Oracle and Luna Rossa. With 17-18 knot easterlies bucking a flying tide, Oracle's Russell Coutts battled for position at the start, then charged in at the committee boat end with a full head of steam, hitting the line smoking at the gun. The move proved an instant game winner.

Luna Rossa's rules expert, Luis Saenz, shook his head in wonder. "That's Coutts at his finest," he said of the three-time Cup winner. "He couldn't have had two meters to spare."

-Angus Phillips

Competition opens up in round robin two

The first day of the second round robin saw the two unbeaten teams of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series have their first losses, upsetting the form guide and setting the stage for four more days of great racing.

Alinghi beat Origin and Damiani Italia beat Emirates Team New Zealand.

The big interest today was in the first race - Alinghi v Origin. With former Emirates Team New Zealand backup helmsman Ben Ainslie at the helm, Origin beat Alinghi in the first round robin.

Today Origin won the start and managed a narrow lead around the track until halfway down the second run. Alinghi stayed close to windward and grabbed the chance when it was offered, sailing over Origin and taking a 15 sec win.

Emirates Team New Zealand had its first loss of the regatta.

Grant Dalton: "We didn't expect to go through the regatta without a loss. There's some class opposition here and they'll take every chance offered.

"Once Damiani got the lead, they worked really hard to keep it. We attacked and attacked again but they were very cool under pressure. They didn't waver and they didn't give us a chance to pass. These short courses can be really brutal if you're trying to come from behind.

"We are not happy at the loss, but we're delighted for the event. We wanted good, tough racing right to the end and today's results put some more spark into the competition. Now, every team has something to prove."

The start was relatively even; both yachts on starboard tack with the Italians to windward with a slight advantage in the right. Damiani crossed ahead and ETNZ continued to the right, but the lift was in the left and the Italians used the advantage they gained to control the rest of the beat.

Damiani rounded 11 sec ahead and were able to extend to 20 sec at the next mark. The second beat was a repeat of the first with Damiani rounding 24 sec ahead. At the finish the margin was 19 sec.

Skipper Dean Barker said Damiani deserved their win. "We let them off the hook before the start and they took advantage of it. They worked hard to shut us down and ensure there were no passing lanes.

"We never thought we were going to get right through unscathed. Everyone here is a top-level sailor. We made a couple of mistakes and they didn't let us recover."

Tactician Ray Davies said: "Make a mistake and all the teams are good enough to control the race to the finish…. we tried to keep the race close as we could, and the Italians did well to defend their lead

"We like to win every race but that's impossible out here."

-Warren Douglas, ETNZ Press Officer

Today's results:
Gold Fleet:
Alinghi beat Team Origin by 15sec
Damiani Italia Challenge beat Emirates Team New Zealand by 19 sec
BMW Oracle beat Luna Ross by 59 sec
Silver Fleet:
China Team beat Team Shosholoza by 55 sec
K Challenge beat Greek Challenge by 26 sec

Feb. 6 draw
Gold Fleet:
Alinghi v Damiani Italia Team
Team Origin v BMW Oracle Racing
Emirates Team New Zealand v Luna Rossa
Silver Fleet:
Team Shosholoza v Pataugas K-Challenge
Greek Challenge v China Team

After Gold/Silver fleet round robins, ETNZ advances to the LVPS finals, while the top three teams from the Gold Fleet and the top team from the Silver fleert advance to the semifinals.

First race is timed to start at 11 a.m.

Feb. 4, 2009

British "Poodles" Remain Undefeated

Tom Ehman calls them "the poodles," but Team Origin looks more like pit bulls on the water.

Ehman, Larry Ellison's right-hand man at BMW-Oracle, is vexed at the British America's Cup team for siding with Alinghi in the ongoing legal dispute over control of the next Cup match. He thinks Origin boss Sir Keith Mills is just a lap dog for Alinghi chief Ernesto Bertarelli.

That may be true, but Mills's lads, led by three-time Olympic gold medalist Ben Ainslie, are marching over all comers so far in the two-week Louis Vuitton Pacific Series here in Auckland. Origin handily beat Alinghi, Luna Rossa, Shosholoza, and the Greek team to finish the first round robin undefeated. Now they face Alinghi and BMW Oracle in the first two races of round two, starting Thursday.

"You have to race them all eventually," said Origin team leader Mike Sanderson with a shrug. "We might as well get on with it."

Mills would love to get on with it. He assembled a formidable Cup team 19 months ago with Ainslie and two-time Olympic champion Iain Percy in the cockpit and a half-dozen other Brits on deck. It's the most competitive English entry since the 1930s. But you can't keep a good group together forever without something to look forward to.

"We need to be on the water, racing," said Mills. "It's been too long. The America's Cup has had enough time talking and not enough sailing."

Ehman reckons that's why Mills backs Bertarelli in the dispute with BMW Oracle. "He's got a team to keep intact; the longer this thing drags on, the more it costs him."

                                               *                             *                                  *  

Carlo Borlenghi/Alinghi| |Alinghi skipper Ed Baird| The big shocker of the first round was Alinghi's total collapse in the final race Tuesday, when the Swiss got boxed out at the start by Shosholoza's Paolo Cian, then managed to miss every shift up the first leg. The Cupholders wound up losing to winless Shosholoza by more than half a mile.

Alinghi's crew beat a hasty exit when they got back to shore, then sent navigator Juan Vila to the press conference to explain the cock-up. He didn't have much to say, beyond admitting it was "obviously not the best day for us."

Give some props to skipper Ed Baird, who turned up all by himself at a sailors' barbecue that night to take his medicine neat. I collared him over a beer. "I didn't see the start," I said. "What happened?"

"I don't know," he said sheepishly. "I wasn't really there either."

                                           *                             *                                  *  

When Round Robin 2 starts Thursday, the 10 entries will be split into a Gold Fleet (top 6) and a silver fleet (bottom 4). After that round, Emirates Team New Zealand advances automatically to the final as the host team, while the top three teams from the gold fleet and the top one from the silver fleet race off for the other spot in the finals.

Team New Zealand may be taking an easy road to the finals, but as the only other undefeated team in RR1 besides Origin, TNZ is in good form and a worthy finalist. Their closest match so far was against BMW Oracle; the pair were dead even midway up the second beat when TNZ's Dean Barker gave up starboard advantage to go left and it paid. It was nip and tuck, though, right to the end between him and his onetime mentor, Russell Coutts, which all bodes well for close competition as the field narrows down.

--Angus Phillips

Feb. 3, 2009

Secrets Sometimes Lie Beneath in LVPS

When Team Origin navigator Peter Isler climbed off a race boat at the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series in Auckland, he said he'd had a hard time getting his sea legs all day because it felt like the boat was shifting beneath him.

Well, it was. Isler's still-unbeaten British team was on one of the Emirates Team New Zealand boats. Looking around, he discovered the floor-decks weren't attached firmly to the hulls, but instead bedded in Sikaflex so they could shift under foot.

Why? I asked TNZ chief Grant Dalton, who explained the secret without blinking an eye: "The decks are left to float so the hull can twist under load. When it does, we extend the (leeward) waterline by loading up the weather side. It gives us up to 180 millimeters extra waterline length."

More waterline means more speed, but the edge doesn't come without worries. Dalton said they had to rig stops to make sure the twist didn't go so far and snap the boat in two. And grinder pedestals and other stationary deck gear are affixed loosely so they won't crack the deck as it shifts.

Why wasn't Dalton reluctant to let nine other teams see this technological marvel, for fear they'd copy it for the next Cup? "We'd like to keep it quiet, but we felt the advantage of having a regatta like this outweighed the costs of giving up our secret."

Dalton a year ago hatched the idea of bringing idle Cup teams here to race on borrowed boats. "We needed to re-engage our fans," said Dalton, who is trying to keep sponsors and the Kiwi public interested while the Cup wallows in legal battles. He's "over the moon" at the initial success of the Louis Vuitton Series, which is drawing plenty of attention, all positive so far.

Dalton reckons an event like this, where boats and accommodations are provided, is "right for the times--cheap and good for the competitors."

Once Isler had told me about the Kiwi decks, I was aching to get aboard and feel the earth… move… under my feet, as the song goes. So I was mildly disappointed when an offer came to be 18th man with BMW Oracle today, but on one of the U.S. boats, not a Kiwi one.

But no complaints. It was a sparkling sunny day with 12 to 15 knots of northerly breeze. We had a nice start, Russell Coutts winning the right side, then squeezed out a two-boat lead over Vasco Vascotto on Damiani Italia 1.7 miles up the course at the weather mark. The Italians came back to nearly even on the run, then Coutts stretched out again on the beat to salt the win away.

We were still speeding back from the race on a RIB when the day's shocker went off, winless Shosholoza tromping Cupholder Alinghi at the start, then winning the race by over half a mile. It's preregatta favorite Alinghi's second loss in four outings. You could hear Shosho's fans cheering as we rolled in, singing the Sosholoza fight song that mimics a steam train chugging through some African valley, bound for the diamond mines. Sweet.

-Angus Phillips

Shosholoza Mixes Up a Big Win

In their makeshift radio studio on the media catamaran here at the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series, commentators have covered for downtime by touching on everything from ancient Greek pronunciation to mincemeat pies. As Shosholoza and Alinghi dialed up for the typical slow-motion flog in the second race today, the announcers prepared for what they thought would be a blowout. Head announcer Ross Blackman told his sidekick, "Just keep talking because there is absolutely nothing happening!" Luckily for all of us, that 'nothing' turned out to be quite something. In holding their dial up position, Shosholoza delayed Alinghi's plan, won the start, and extended for the next two laps. That could have been a boring race, but the South African team members on the media boat had a field day with their thousand-meter lead. While videoing the virtual eye animation, one benchwarmer joked, "They've been doing that to us for the past four years. It's about time!" Chances are, the South Africans are going to have some fun tonight as only they know how.

Louis Vuitton Pacific Series| |Winless through 3 races, Team Shosholoza scored its only point of Round Robin 1 with a stunning victory over Alinghi.| Let me clarify that by South Africans, I really mean Italians-as Shosholoza sails with over a dozen of them. Multiculturalism is still the euphemism of choice when describing America's Cup class racing of present-day, as the Kiwi mafia has infiltrated every team and the English overthrew the French to colonize Team China. Despite the melting pot (or if you're into more modern political terminology, we could say "salad bowl") of sailors, the teams here are flying country flags, which is a nice throwback to the days when teams raced for their nations. Those flags are just one of the many lovable touches Louis Vuitton's Bruno Trouble has brought to this event.

The last time these sailors raced in Valencia, the mood for the America's Cup final was focused, competitive, and almost somber under the intense pressure of the match. On the other hand, the ACTs leading up to the Cup were more social affairs. Here at the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series, Emirates Team New Zealand's logistics manager Ian Stewart reckons the regatta feels more like an Act, and almost even like an exhibition event. As a result, Alinghi sailors are enjoying golf outings and the home team has emerged from the hibernation they practiced in the summer of 2007. . . We might even see them together at Bruno's bbq tonight! Former ETNZ weatherman/Cup philosopher Grant Beck said it best. "It's like back in the old days when there was no dough in it!" Dough or no dough, it's what we've been waiting for.

-Derby Anderson

Day 5 Race Report from LVPS Press Officer Keith Taylor

The biggest upset in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series came today on Auckland Harbour as South Africa's Team Shosholoza slam-dunked the reigning America's Cup winners Alinghi, from Switzerland.

Without a win after three days of racing, the South Africans skippered by Italian match racer Paolo Cian came out with all guns blazing against the Swiss boat helmed by two-time cup winner Ed Baird.

Cian used the favored starboard tack entry to the starting box to engage Baird in a prolonged dialup above the starting line that stretched out over more than three drawn-out minutes. It was a virtuoso performance. The American had the option of tacking away but opted to hold his boat motionless, head to wind in anticipation of an error by his opponent. Cian never blinked and stayed in control until he peeled off to return in a perfectly-timed big sweeping turn below the line to start at speed. Baird was forced to follow nearly three boat lengths astern in his wake.

From there, things went from bad to worse. Alinghi lost time on every leg, especially the bottom of the first spinnaker run where a light patch of breeze and a wind shift cost valuable meters and left Baird's foredeck crew scrambling to muzzle their spinnaker after rounding the mark. Alinghi was over a kilometre astern and 3m49s away when the South Africans finished.

Conditions were perfect for racing, with bright sunshine, a puffy, shifty and warm north-easterly wind at 14-16 knots, and flat water in the Rangitoto Channel.

Courtesy Pataugas By K-Challenge| |The French Pataugas by K-Challenge team fell to ETNZ in both team's final races in Round Robin 1. The French team must now be one of the top two teams in the silver fleet to advance to the next round.| In the other races, BMW Oracle Racing defeated Damiani Italia by 52 seconds in a race that was close for the first three legs. The French boat Pataugas K-Challenge put up a good fight and engaged Emirates Team New Zealand for the first weather leg of their race but the Kiwis won by 1m38s. Greek offshore sailor Theodoros Tsoulfas took the helm of the Greek Challenge today to race Britain's TEAMORIGIN and kept the margin close for two legs before the British pulled away to win by 58s.

At the end of the first round robin, the scores are: Pool A - Emirates Team New Zealand, 4; BMW Oracle Racing, 3; Damiani Italia Challenge, 2; Pataugas K Challenge, 1; China Team, 0. Pool B - TEAMORIGIN, 4; Alinghi, 2; Luna Rossa, 2; Team Shosholoza, 1; Greek Challenge, 0.

After a lay day tomorrow, racing starts again on Thursday in the second round robin. In the Gold Fleet, Alinghi in NZL 84 will race TEAMORIGIN in NZL 92, Damiani Italia Challenge in NZL 84 will race Emirates Team New Zealand in NZL 92 and BMW Oracle Racing in NZL 92 will race Luna Rossa in NZL 84. In the Silver Fleet, Pataugas K-Challenge in USA 87 will race Greek Challenge in USA 98, while Team Shosholoza in USA 87 will race China Team in USA 98.

Feb. 2, 2009

Day 4 Race Report by Keith Taylor, LVPS Press Officer

Ian Roman/Team Origin| |Team Origin picked up its third point on Day 4 of the LVPS, with a win over Shosholoza.| Competition in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series took on a new sense of urgency as dusk fell over the Hauraki Gulf this evening and South Africa's Shosholoza and Italy's Luna Rossa scrapped like tigers throughout a four-lap race. Think dinghy moves in 80-footers!

The victory honors went to Peter Holmberg skippering Luna Rossa but only after multiple lead changes and two penalties imposed on the South African boat. It was by far the closest race in the first four days of competition in the two-week long international match race for big boats sailed in Auckland's harbour.

In four other races today, China Team lost to Emirates Team New Zealand after blowing their race start, while Luna Rossa comfortably defeated the Greek Team. BMW Oracle Racing won by 54 seconds over Pataugas K-Challenge and TEAMORIGIN beat Shosholoza by 48 seconds.

With one day's competition remaining in the first round robin, the scores are: Pool A - Emirates Team New Zealand, 3; Damiani Italia Challenge, 2; BMW Oracle Racing, 2; Pataugas K Challenge, 1; China Team, 0. Pool B - TEAMORIGIN, 3; Alinghi, 2; Luna Rossa, 2; Greek Challenge, 0, Team Shosholoza, 0.

Is a New AC Heavyweight Emerging in Auckland?

The U.S. dollar is back! In Auckland these days you get almost two Kiwi for one Yankee, so I felt flush after my initial trip to the Queen Street ATM this weekend when I punched up $400 NZL in walk-around cash. The heady feeling didn't last.

"That's great, but what will you do for tomorrow?" sniffed Briton Bob Fisher, who knows how fast it goes.

Ian Roman/Team Origin| |Helmsman Ben Ainslie (left) and tactician Iain Percy, with five gold medals between them, have proven a potent combination in the Team Origin afterguard.| Well, there's more where that came from, and my little $18 tube of sunscreen should last a few days, even with the South Pole ozone layer depleting almost while you wait. Meantime, there's some good yacht racing to take your mind off the global financial meltdown. America's Cup racing, praise God, though we're not supposed to say so.

"Shhhhh!" hissed Bruno Trouble, the lark who managed to outfox Swiss killjoy Ernesto Bertarelli and arrange a two-week midsummer regatta here in Cup boats, even though the words "America's Cup" are strictly verboten.

They're calling it instead the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series, raced in 2007 Cup boats from which all the Cup symbols have been stripped, including the big, signature ones atop the mainsails. A dinosaur without its lipstick is still spectacular, and scores of spectator boats full of giddy Kiwis starved for a little AC action debark daily to watch the powerful pairs hammer away on Waitemata Harbor, with the world's best sailors pulling the strings.

The America's Cup has been off the rails for 19 months now, with no end in sight as billionaire Bertarelli battles American billionaire Larry Ellison over control. Bertarelli wants to control everything, having won the Cup fair and square; Ellison reckons even if you win, you still have to follow the rules, or at least some of them. Their lawyers go at it again before the New York Court of Appeals next week, with a ruling expected (one hopes it's the last) by March.

Meantime, everyone but Ernesto, who sent his Alinghi team here but stayed in Geneva himself, is having a bit of fun in this "City of Sails." Ten 17-man Cup teams jump around daily between matched pairs of boats provided by Ellison's BMW Oracle and host Emirates Team New Zealand. They belly up to the bar afterwards and exchange racing tidbits right out in public, as hasn't happened in decades at a Cup venue, secrecy being the rule. There's plenty to talk about as rusty sailors scramble for handholds on unfamiliar boats.

"It took awhile for us to get the TNZ boats going," said Peter Holmberg, who's helming for veteran Italian team Luna Rossa. "It turns out they have a smaller trim tab than the others, so you have to dial in more angle to get the same effect."

In sailboat racing at this level, little things like that mean a lot. Then again, in three days of short-course, four-leg match-racing in moderate to strong winds, the ability to catch wind shifts and play the swift currents off Rangitoto Island in the narrow Auckland shipping channel has meant at least as much to the results as boat speed, which seems to be fairly even.

Surprise upstart in the fleet is Team Origin, the brand-new British team with three-time Olympic gold medalist Ben Ainslie driving. Origin has knocked off Luna Rossa, Alinghi, and South Africa's Shosholoza in its first three races. Three-time Cup winner Russell Coutts of BMW Oracle reckons Ainslie will be tough to beat here, and folks are wondering, "Could this guy contend for the Cup? Are we looking at hot, new blood?"

Then they remember, "What Cup?"

It must be time for another of those $8 beers. Super Bowl's on TV today and hey, isn't that Coutts over by the bar? Russell? Can we get a picture? That's a good lad...

--Angus Phillips

Jan. 30, 2009

Off to a Rough Start, But Cup Racing Is Back

With a broken spinnaker pole, a shredded spinnaker, a crunched bow, a damaged stern, and two penalties, the opening day of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series was full of surprises.

Many of us stopped tracking the details of the America's Cup after the racing news turned into law jargon and most of the teams subsequently dissolved. But now, with the Pacific Series kicking off, we have something fun to follow. The Cup sailors are back. Many have traded jerseys and a few have gained some weight, but they're all employed for the next two weeks, so we're seeing a lot of smiling faces around the Auckland Viaduct.

In its genesis, this event feels like one big team-building exercise. Sometimes things develop in unexcpected ways, but those incidents create exciting circumstances and a fantastic vibe. While watching the carnage on the racecourse, we on the media catamaran were treated to a surprise visit by former BMW Oracle helmsman/CEO/skipper/slavedriver Chris Dickson, who rafted up and hopped onto the radio commentary. When asked whether he'd rather be on the windward or the leeward boat as the teams made their final approaches to the start of race three, Dickson showed some humor in light of his recent retirement from Cup racing, replying, "I'd rather be on this boat!" The media boat has been integrated as a pit stop during crew rotations, so after a day of chatting with welcome guests, it's becoming clear how prepared each team actually is.

You'd think that, having had only a few days of practice with new crews in borrowed boats, many of these teams would be flying by the seats of their pants, but Luna Rossa mainsil trimmer Paul Westlake and tactician Andy Horton said the allotted two-hour training sessions went off without a hitch. Teams like Emirates Team New Zealand, TeamOrigin, and Alinghi also looked ready to race. The Greek team, however, did not have such a smooth transition into this event. Having delayed the crew selection until less than 24 hours before their first race, they might have forgotten who was actually on the roster, as they left team member Dan Slater stranded on the media boat for two hours. After receiving the phone call, "We're on the water. Where are you?," Slater was reunited with his teammates, who were still trying to figure out where they had left they're "GRE" country code sail sticker (which they never found).

The Louis Vuitton Pacific Series is a welcome return to America's Cup-style racing. The borrowed boats and relatively low budgets simplify the game into good, fun match racing-- something we'd all like to watch.

--Derby Anderson

Day 1 Race Report by Keith Taylor, LVPS Press Officer

The French team Pataugas K-Challenge won the opening match, defeating China Team by 1m 2s in a shifty and gusty 14-16 knot southwesterly breeze. Under gray skies K-Challenge made a strong start on port at the pin end of the line. China Team made a late start on starboard at the committee boat end but skipper Ian Williams made big gains up the first weather leg. A gybe early on the spinnaker run resulted in a broken spinnaker pole on the Chinese boat, a situation compounded by a penalty after a leeward mark incident. The Chinese did well to finish just over one minute astern after taking their penalty.

With the wind strength increasing, the new crew of the British TEAMORIGIN syndicate was in total control from the start of its encounter with Italy's Luna Rossa. With two Olympic gold medallists in the afterguard - Ben Ainslie at the helm, and Iain Percy calling tactics - TEAMORIGIN won the start and after a spirited tacking duel up the middle of the course, established a 22s lead around the first mark. Despite efforts by Luna Rossa helmsman Peter Holmberg, the British team pulled away to win by 1m 11s.

In the third race, sailing on home waters, Emirate Team New Zealand's skipper/helmsman Dean Barker led from start to finish against Damiani Italia Challenge. Francesco Bruni on the helm of the Italian boat started in synch with the Kiwis with a safe leeward berth, only to see the home team boat inch slowly away. At the end the Kiwi margin was 19s.

In 18-20 knot gusts, Greek Challenge made their mark, literally, in their maiden appearance, racing against top seed Alinghi. Gavin Brady, the Kiwi skipper of the Greek boat, had no hesitation in testing his mettle against Ed Baird, Alinghi's skipper in the pre-start. He paid a heavy penalty when he lost control momentarily and his bow hit the stern of Alinghi. It cost the feisty Brady one penalty point for "hard contact." Unperturbed, Brady made a good recovery and led Baird out towards the port layline before the Swiss boat settled down and began to sail steadily away. The umpires awarded the requisite one point to Alinghi for their victory and docked the Greek Challenge one point, leaving them in negative territory. The margin was 2m 2s.