The America's Cup formally began its journey away from New Zealand to Switzerland today when the Commodore of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron handed the fabled trophy to Alinghi head Ernesto Bertarelli.
In a moving ceremony on Te Wero Island in the middle of the American Express Viaduct Harbour, commemorative medals were awarded to both Team New Zealand and Alinghi for their part in the XXXIst America's Cup regatta.
The ceremony marked the end of an era in New Zealand. Eight years ago, in 1995, Team New Zealand became the second non-US syndicate to win the trophy. Three years ago, at the start of the new millennium, Team New Zealand made history by being the first non-US syndicate to successfully defend the Cup.
Tony Thomas, Executive Director of America's Cup 2003, praised Alinghi's campaign. "You came well prepared, had a strong and fast boat and went about your business," he said.
He noted that Alinghi had established several individual records in its campaign, but also that it was the first time in the history of the Cup that a first-time challenger had won. It is also the first time in 152 years, that the trophy is going back to Europe.
Acknowledging that victory in the America's Cup bestowed "winner takes all" rights, Thomas said he hoped that, as it returned to Europe, "some of its traditions would be retained".
The Alinghi Team
Then, the climax of the prize-giving as Bill Endean, Commodore of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, hoisted the America's Cup from its pedestal and handed it to Bertarelli.
Congratulating the Swiss team on its performance, Commodore Endean said "to go from zero to hero in three years is an incredible achievement".
Paying tribute to Team New Zealand, he said: "Special thanks and recognition to the boys in black who made sacrifices and turned down what might have been more attractive offers to stay with their team, stay with their club and stay with their country.
"You fought hard and you fought fair,"
he said, "but your best was not good enough. The better team won."
On a similar theme, Team New Zealand head, Tom Schnackenberg congratulated Alinghi on a job very well done. "We trust you will get a warm welcome in Switzerland," he said. "You have done Switzerland proud."
In reply, Bertarelli said receiving the Cup was a great honour and an historic moment. "We understand the value of the America's Cup,"
he said. With a history of 700 years of democracy, Bertarelli added: "We know what tradition is. We know what history is. The America's Cup has 152 years of history. We are not going to take that lightly."
With the handover of the Cup now complete, guardianship of the trophy and the event shifts to Alinghi and the Société Nautique de Genève. The first indications of how the Alinghi defence will be run will be tomorrow when details of their new Cup protocol will be released.
At the prizegiving, Bruno Troublé on behalf of Louis Vuitton presented a commemorative bollard to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.