After Four-Day Delay, Wind Returns and the Louis Vuitton Cup Begins
The America’s Cup lifted itself out of the doldrums Friday as some of the world’s fastest yachts finally began racing after four days of delays because of a lack of wind. The lone American challenger, BMW Oracle Racing, easily defeated two lesser-regarded teams, United Internet Team Germany and China Team, to tie for the lead in points among the 11 challengers here. The challengers are competing in the Louis Vuitton Cup — a round-robin format and semifinals — to select the boat that will face the defending champion, Alinghi, in the America’s Cup finals beginning in June.
Oracle, among the favorites in Valencia, finished the first full day of racing in a tie with the Italian team, Luna Rossa Challenge. Larry Ellison, the chief executive of Oracle and one of the world’s wealthiest individuals, took the helm as the yacht finished two minutes ahead of the German team.
Oracle beat the boat from China — the first to compete from that country in the 156-year history of the America’s Cup — by 4 minutes 36 seconds.
“Realistically, if we were under pressure against China and Germany, we would be struggling to win the America’s Cup,” said Jamie Gale, a pitman from New Zealand aboard Oracle. He added, “It was just nice to be racing.”
A continuing lack of wind forced the postponement of the first eight races. The first half of the round-robin series was supposed to end Monday but will now finish Friday. The top four finishers in the round-robin series will race to determine the final challenger to Alinghi.
“The big question today was how would everybody react after four days of no racing and waiting for the wind,” Peter Isler, Oracle’s navigator, told The Associated Press. “I think we got high marks for that.”
The other races Friday were close, as the 24-ton boats clashed for eight nautical miles over the course, employing blocking maneuvers to try to pass each other and prevent the other boat from reaching the next mark.
The Italian team, Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team, scored perhaps the day’s biggest upset as it beat one of the top contenders, Emirates Team New Zealand, by 15 seconds after trailing at the start of the day. Mascalzone Latino later beat the French boat, Areva Challenge. The New Zealand boat lost, 5-0, to Alinghi in the 2003 Cup.
The other surprise finish belonged to Team Shosholoza of South Africa, a newcomer with a meager budget. It has the support of Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who has been sending prayers in e-mail and text messages to the racially mixed crew. In a second-round tacking duel with United Internet Team Germany, the South Africans won by more than a minute. The South Africans had lost the day’s opening race to Victory, a Swedish team.
Shosholoza is the first boat from Africa to compete in the America’s Cup. Its name comes from a Zulu word that means to keep going forward.
“We crossed the line not even thinking about being the first South African team to win a race in the Louis Vuitton Cup because we expected to win today,” said Mark Sadler, the skipper of Shosholoza. “I think our profile has been raised, and it’s done a lot for South African sailing in the big picture.”
By DOREEN CARVAJAL
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