It’s been 21 years since the America’s Cup was taken from the shores of R.I. , yet it was easy to forget this weekend as Cup competitors Alinghi and BMW Oracle Racing threw down off Newport in the UBS Trophy, which runs June 19 to 26. Narragansett Bay was jam-packed with spectator boats all hoping to get an up-close-and-personal look at the two ACC boats. Luckily for them, and those who watched from ashore, getting “up close” was only a matter of time. On numerous occasions, Alinghi and BMW Oracle entered the spectator fleet-ranging from kayaks to 200-foot yachts-attempting to shake the trailing opponent. Thousands lining the shore from Fort Adams to Castle Hill were treated no less when Oracle and Alinghi tacked up the bay, often coming within a stones throw from land. Team Alinghi took advantage of sloppy crew work on BMW Oracle to take a quick 2-0 lead in the PRO driver’s series. Alinghi looked faster, smoother, and generally more in-control on Saturday, the first day of eight. BMW Oracle Racing caught the leeward mark during the first race, which saw them make a last minute comeback to lose by 5 seconds. A pre-start penalty to Oracle in the second race was only the beginning of their problems. As BMW Oracle and Alinghi put their crew through an intense tacking duel past Newport Bridge, BMW Oracle maintained a slight advantage. It was on the last windward leg when Oracle opted to draw Alinghi into a foul to cancel their own (instead of completing a 270 degree turn); it failed, they slowed too much, and Alinghi rolled over the top and never looked back. BMW Oracle Racing never finished their penalty turn, receiving a DNF to sit 2-0 in the series. “We didn’t get the job done today but we kept it close. We’re pretty familiar with each other in our crew and we just want to keep building and getting better,” said Jamie Gale, optimistic pitman from the BMW Oracle Racing Team. If words weren’t enough, BMW Oracle Racing nailed their second day. A first race sailed in fickle winds and shortened due to one inbound tanker left little hope for the intense racing seen Saturday. But the race committee had been hearing reports of 20-knot gusts from Pt. Judith, only a few miles from the course. Spectators knew something special was coming when the first signs of a sea breeze started to show. Sure enough, a fresh 20-knot southerly ensued and put the teams straight past Goat Island, Fort Adams, and Castle Hill. Nothing was quite so special as seeing Cup boats and Cup spectators, back in Newport, steaming out Narragansett Bay. Nostalgic just doesn’t do it justice. BMW Oracle held onto a two-boatlength lead the entire race; however, it was the tacking duels and downwind battles that made Sunday afternoon truly memorable. BMW Oracle Racing Team went on to win by 7 seconds. The sea of spectators erupted in cheers and the sound of air horns filled the air off Newport. The series was tied 2-2. The America’s Cup has always bred controversy, and the UBS Trophy has yet to disappoint. Russell Coutts’s absence behind the wheel of Alinghi hasn’t gone unnoticed, and the rumor mill has begun to churn. Some say Coutts wants to return to New Zealand, the country he led to two America’s Cup triumphs in 1995 and 2000. “We had Russell on the crew list. We had hoped that he would helm today. I asked him before we left the dock and again on the chase boat, but unfortunately he didn’t want to helm,” says Alinghi president and navigator Ernesto Bertarelli. “He’s a great sailor and has contributed tremendously to the team. When we realized he wasn’t going to sail it was disappointment.” Others inside Alinghi have a slightly more optimistic outlook, suggesting that Coutts is giving others a chance to sail. “Russell is doing what he feels like he should,” says Simon Daubney, Alinghi jib trimmer and ex-Team NZ member. Others hint Bertarelli plans to keep Coutts on the Alinghi payroll-away from opposing syndicates-regardless of his sailing or not. Ellison exercised similar tactics in 2003 when he kept American Paul Cayard on the Oracle payroll and off the water. By keeping Cayard within the syndicate, Ellison prevented him from leaving and joining competitors. While Coutts’s situation has generated international attention, teammate and Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth has also been quietly absent from the UBS Trophy thus far. Butterworth was involved in a one-car accident the night before the first day of racing and did not sail either of the two first days of competition. Butterworth sustained a broken ankle and it seems unlikely he will return to the UBS Trophy. Please refer to the official event website at www.ubstrophy.com, for more information.