Sailing's elite line up for America's cup

Sailing's elite line up for America's cup

SAN FRANCISCO - Agence France-Presse
Sailings elite line up for Americas cup

Oracle Team USA’s first AC72 catamaran trains with the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and skyline in the background in San Francisco. Three challengers -- Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ), Italy’s Luna Rossa and Sweden’s Artemis -- will try to take the Cup from Oracle, all of them with catamarans.

International sailing’s elite gathers in San Francisco Bay this weekend for the start of qualifying for the 34th America’s Cup, the sport’s most prestigious race and the oldest sporting trophy in the world.

Four teams will battle it out on the water for the historic silver pitcher from July 7 to Sept. 21 against a backdrop of the former prison island Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The America’s Cup, first contested in 1851, has been held since 2010 by U.S. billionaire Larry Ellison, the owner of Oracle Team USA, which sails in the colors of the Golden Gate Yacht Club.

“Billion Dollar Larry”, whose personal fortune is estimated at some $40 billion (30.6 billion euros) beat the giant Swiss catamaran Alinghi 2-0 in Valencia, Spain, with a 30-meter-long rigid wing trimaran.

Three challengers -- Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ), Italy’s Luna Rossa and Sweden’s Artemis -- will try to take the Cup from Oracle, all of them with catamarans.

There are only three challengers because the budget required to take part in the competition is a staggering $100 million to $150 million. With many countries feeling the economic pinch, French and South Korean teams, among others, have had to throw in the towel.

Before taking on Oracle, the challengers first have to win the Louis Vuitton Cup from July 7-30 on the same course.

Match racing

Races in the Louis Vuitton are of the same type as those in the America’s Cup -- “match racing,” with one boat competing against another.

In the past, the Cup was virtually always contested with single-hull boats, with two exceptions: in 1988 and 2010, but now the more efficient but potentially dangerous multi-hull boats have taken their place.

The risks involved in sailing these high-tech AC72 boats, which “fly” over the water at more than 40 knots (75 kilometers per hour) and three times the wind speed, was confirmed on June 9 when Artemis’ catamaran capsized.

The accident, which killed British double Olympic medalist Andrew Simpson when he was trapped under the overturned structure, cast a shadow over the Cup even before it began.

The Swedish team has said it would still take part in the competition with a second AC72 but it had not yet taken to the water a week before the first race between ETNZ and Luna Rossa.

Given the complexity of the boats, there are indications that Artemis will have to sit out the first races of the Louis Vuitton and will only join the other challengers from the end of July at the earliest.

Following the tragic capsize, stringent security measures have been adopted and the race program revised to allow the Swedes to participate, much to the displeasure of ETNZ boss Grant Dalton, who has accused organizers of being too accommodating to Artemis.