Sunday, February 14, 2010
BMW Oracle wins America's Cup
VALENCIA, Spain -- Still bundled against the cold in his white foul-weather gear, software tycoon Larry Ellison hoisted the America's Cup high in the air, then planted a kiss on the oldest trophy in international sports.
"Valencia -- muchas gracias!" the self-made billionaire screamed, following the ride of his life across the Mediterranean on one of the most remarkable boats ever built.
BMW Oracle's sweep of Alinghi returns America's Cup to the U.S. for the first time since 1995.
After sitting out Race 1 due to a weight limit, the 65-year-old Ellison was onboard his trimaran Sunday as space-age craft with a gigantic wing for a sail sped ahead of two-time defending champion Alinghi of Switzerland to complete the two-race sweep.
"I am so proud of this team, I am so proud to be part of this team, and I am especially proud to bring the America's Cup, once again, after a long absence, back to the United States of America," said Ellison, the CEO of Oracle Corp.
Syndicate CEO Russell Coutts, who has quite a bit of experience at winning the America's Cup, popped the cork on a magnum of champagne and sprayed his boss, as well as tactician John Kostecki and skipper-helmsman Jimmy Spithill of Australia.
Blue and silver confetti blew across the stage and fireworks went off across Port America's Cup, a festive ending to a tumultuous 2½-year period that dragged the 159-year-old event to one of its lowest points.
Ellison and rival Ernesto Bertarelli had been locked in court since July 2007, and it looked for a while like the result of this race was going to be contested off the water.
Alinghi raised a red protest flag on its giant catamaran late on the first leg of the triangle course during Race 2, leaving everyone wondering what it was about since there's no communication off the boats.
The Swiss dropped the protest after the race, confirming Ellison's win.
BMW Oracle, left, beat defending champion Alinghi, right, by more than five minutes on Sunday.
Bertarelli wasn't at the ceremony when the ornate America's Cup was handed over by the Societe Nautique de Geneve to San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club. The biotech tycoon became the first European to win the America's Cup in 2003 with a victory over Team New Zealand, and defended it against the Kiwis in 2007 before the legal fight with Ellison began.
"Congratulations to the BMW Oracle team, their boat was faster," Bertarelli said at a news conference. "They had a strategy, they got a little help from the legal system in New York and that always makes it difficult for us Europeans and that gave them advantages.
"They were faster, good on them," he continued. "We didn't have a boat that was quite fast enough. We didn't lay down. We fought as hard as we could and we exit with our head high."
The Swiss team will wait before deciding whether it continues sailing the America's Cup, Bertarelli said, adding that Alinghi would be encouraged to race again if BMW Oracle drops its lawsuits, which are still pending in a New York court.
The America's Cup has been away from U.S. shores for 15 years, the longest drought since the schooner America won the silver trophy by beating a fleet of British ships around the Isle of Wight in 1851. Dennis Conner lost it in 1995 to Team New Zealand and Coutts, now a four-time America's Cup winner.
Ellison and Kostecki were the only Americans on BMW Oracle's crew for the clincher. The massive sailboat was steered by Spithill, who at age 30 was sailing in his fourth America's Cup.
"The boys are just absolutely lit up," Spithill said as the boat headed into port in the Valencian dusk. "Larry's stoked, Russell's stoked and we just can't wait to get back to shore to celebrate."
While Ellison's fortune made the victory possible, the true star was his monster black-and-white trimaran and its radical 223-foot wing sail, which powered the craft at three times the speed of the wind, sending its windward and middle hulls flying well above the water.
When the yacht hooked into a breeze, it seemed as if Spithill jammed down an accelerator.
One of the lasting images of this America's Cup will be that of Spithill, decked out in technology seemingly straight out Star Wars, calmly steering from his airborne helm.
The American trimaran took a 28-second lead rounding the first mark Sunday and powered toward the horizon while sailing across the wind on the second leg. The final margin for two of the fastest, most technologically advanced sailboats built was 5 minutes, 25 seconds.
"It's just such an awesome tool for racing," Spithill said.
Alinghi had to do a 270-degree penalty at the finish, the result of its second prestart blunder in as many races. The Swiss boat was in the starting box before the 5-minute gun sounded, giving BMW Oracle an instant boost.
While the Americans headed out to the left side of the course, Alinghi did a downspeed tack and took the right side. The move paid off when the Swiss gained during a wind shift and powered into the lead about a third of the way up the leg. Multihull whiz Loick Peyron of France took Alinghi's helm from Bertarelli early in the race.
Alinghi crossed ahead of BMW Oracle approaching the first mark, but lost speed during a tack and the Americans sailed ahead -- and never looked back.
"Unfortunately, you could see there was a little bit of a difference in the boats and that's yacht racing," said Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth, a former crewmate of Coutts with Alinghi and Team New Zealand.
Ellison joins Harold Vanderbilt, Ted Turner and Bill Koch among the tycoons who've hoisted the silver trophy. He's got a ways to go to catch Conner, though.
Conner won the America's Cup four times and lost it twice. His victory in 1987 in Fremantle, Australia, was a bit more stirring, as he went Down Under with determination to reclaim the trophy he'd lost four years earlier, ending the New York Yacht Club's 132-year winning streak.
Ellison's victory ended one of the most bitter chapters in the history of the America's Cup, which has often been a clash of egos as well as boats. He and Bertarelli fought over their interpretations of the 1887 Deed of Gift, which governs the America's Cup.
Ellison's syndicate eventually prevailed, forcing the rare head-to-head showdown.
This was only the second Deed of Gift match in modern times. The other was in 1988, when Conner steered his catamaran to a two-race sweep of New Zealand's big monohull in San Diego.
The America's Cup should return to its normal system of several challengers competing in sloops for the right to face the defender.
The ornate trophy itself is headed for the Golden Gate Yacht Club, which sits on a public jetty in the heart of San Francisco's cityfront, with views of one of the world's most famous bridges and Alcatraz Island.