For the second time in his sailing career, skipper Russell Coutts has won the Louis Vuitton Cup after his Alinghi Team defeated the Oracle BMW Racing crew on Sunday afternoon in the waters off Auckland.
After almost a two-hour delay due to light winds, Coutts started work early, luring Oracle BMW helmsman Peter Holmberg into a pre-start penalty. With that early advantage, Coutts was content to wait patiently for an opportunity later in the race to make a pass, and that eventually came near the top of the second beat, when Oracle BMW skipper Chris Dickson elected not to cover.
The American boat sailed into a light patch and what had been a 150-metre lead quickly evaporated as the Swiss team charged in from the right. Now holding the lead at the second top mark, Coutts and his team protected ferociously the rest of the way, and sailed on to victory.
When the wind eventually filled in early in the afternoon, the weather was perfect for the coronation of a champion, with sunny skies and a light sea breeze blessing the Hauraki Gulf. On past performance, the lighter conditions would seem to have favoured the American team, setting up what would become a classic match race. On the final run, the Americans actually regained the lead with some smart tactics and a nice wind shift. However just before the finishing line, in an effort to engage Alinghi and offload the penalty, they surrendered it again, going down fighting to the end.
With a weekend armada of over 600 spectator boats surrounding the race course, the Alinghi Team crossed the finish line ahead of its American rival to a cacophony of cow's bells and ship's horns, securing a 5 -1 series victory and the Louis Vuitton Cup.
The trophy will be presented to the team in a public ceremony at Auckland's Viaduct Basin when the boat returns to port after the race. Many of the Alinghi crew were with Coutts when he first won the Louis Vuitton in 1995, but for seven sailors on the race crew today, this will be their first taste of Moët & Chandon champagne from the Louis Vuitton Cup.
With the win, the Swiss Alinghi Team, assembled by Ernesto Bertarelli, earns the right to Challenge Team New Zealand for the America's Cup beginning on February 15th. For the second time in a row, there will be no American boat in the America's Cup.
LOUIS VUITTON CUP FINAL
ALINGHI (SUI-64) BEAT USA-76- DELTA 02:34
Alinghi wins best-of-nine Final over Oracle BMW Racing 5 -1 to win the Louis Vuitton Cup
Starting in a light and shifty northerly sea breeze, Peter Holmberg at the helm of USA-76 entered from the 'pin end' a few seconds late and struggled to regain the initiative. After ducking the line, Holmberg entered a slow 'dial up' and ended up well to weather of the start line, with Russell Coutts steering Alinghi close on her starboard side. USA-76 broke off the dial up first and started to run back to the line on starboard tack. Coutts in hot pursuit turned inside the American boat and followed close behind also on starboard. Holmberg attempted to gybe ahead of the Swiss boat, but there was not quite enough room and unfortunately for Oracle BMW, they were penalised by the Umpires, for infringing Rule 10 after their stern was judged too close to Alinghi's bow.
Coutts broke off from further engagement resulting in a split start, with Oracle BMW starting at the 'pin' and Alinghi wanting the right starting near the Race Committee boat. The boats split over eight hundred metres apart before Alinghi tacked over to the left. Dickson's call for the left paid off after the Americans found slightly stronger wind and won the first cross, two boat lengths ahead of the Swiss. Dickson and Holmberg continued to control the first beat from the right hand side and rounded the first mark 15 seconds ahead, but still with a penalty outstanding.
Dickson's team extended on the downwind leg, after executing a double dummy gybe, with the second one tricking Alinghi into a gybe on to starboard. Oracle continued on port gybe and found better wind to lead around the second mark by 28 seconds. The first half of the second beat again went Oracle BMW's way; at one stage the Americans pulling out a lead of 150 metres. But Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth put his faith in the right and found extra wind pressure to dramatically close up on the final quarter of the leg and snatch the lead just before rounding the windward mark for the second time.
With Alinghi in the lead, Dickson's team was really on the back foot and threw everything they could to shake off the close cover of the Swiss. The Oracle BMW crew sailed brilliantly to close up and roll Alinghi down the final run retaking the lead. Holmberg then slowed the boat down, trying to engage the Swiss to force a mistake and cancel out the penalty. But Coutts and Co. held their nerve, retook the lead just metres from the finish line, went on to win the Louis Vuitton Cup and sail into the America's Cup Match against Team New Zealand.