In another tension-wracked match, Alinghi and Oracle BMW Racing put up a sensational battle today, with each team holding the lead at different stages of the race and the outcome uncertain until the closing stages of the final leg.
At the finish gun, the Swiss Alinghi yacht, skippered by Russell Coutts, swept across the line to go 4-1 up, needing just one more win to take the Louis Vuitton Cup. The Louis Vuitton champion takes on Team New Zealand for the America's Cup on 15 February.
The tension was high from the very beginning as the yachts towed out to the race course, sent off to battle by their loyal supporters. When Oracle BMW Racing won its first match of the finals in light airs and flat water conditions yesterday, the big question was whether a momentum switch had taken place. Would the San Francisco-based team skippered by Chris Dickson be able to build on its first win and seriously threaten Alinghi's early dominance?
The answer was provided in a spellbinding contest with both teams sailing well, but Alinghi coming from behind and showing enough of an edge to claim a vital victory.
The Gulf turned on perfect racing conditions with a southerly breeze of between 11 and 14 knots and flat water - not as shifty but otherwise similar to the combination that saw Oracle BMW Racing excel yesterday.
Despite a slow start on port tack, USA-76 climbed out to an early advantage and led around the first three marks. But, on the second downwind run, USA-76's previous superiority off the wind was not in evidence and Alinghi rolled into the lead under gennaker. From there, the Swiss were relentless in protecting their lead and took the final gun by 13 seconds.
LOUIS VUITTON CUP FINAL
© Carlo Borlenghi
ALINGHI (SUI-64) BEAT USA-76- DELTA 00:13
Alinghi leads best-of-nine finals over Oracle BMW Racing by 4-1
With two minutes to go to the pre-start Oracle BMW skipper Chris Dickson agreed with helmsman Peter Holmberg to "go for the committee boat end on port tack". Holmberg duly delivered, but Russell Coutts at the helm of Alinghi won the start, crossing the line six seconds ahead with better speed and pulled out an early lead.
Eager to get to the right hand side of the course, Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth opted to cross sides as the boats converged and crossed ahead of USA-76 by one boat length, after three and half minutes of sailing. Meanwhile, Dickson was sure the left would pay and patiently held out on the far left side of the course. Through a combination of boat speed and slightly better wind, USA-76 gained the lead despite being on the outside of a right hand shift and rounded the first mark 28 seconds ahead.
USA-76 did not struggle for speed upwind in the flat water and 11 - 14 knots conditions, but Alinghi seemed to have a very slight advantage downwind. Both boats opted for asymmetric spinnakers on the run, but Dickson covered every move from the Swiss boat and rounded the leeward mark 27 seconds ahead. The margin stayed close, but Coutts struck back on the second downwind run. Using Alinghi's boat speed advantage on the reach, the Swiss crew rolled the American yacht to windward and led at the fourth mark by just nine seconds.
On the final beat, Butterworth put his faith in the right hand side and protected it fiercely, gaining just a little each time the boats entered a tacking duel. At the final mark, the Swiss boat rounded just over two boat lengths ahead, setting up for a grandstand final run to the finish. Unfortunately for Oracle BMW Racing, Alinghi prevailed. Coutts and his crew were able to extend by protecting the west side of the course and take their fourth win of the finals, to a cacophony of sirens on the finish line.