Off the Spanish coast, today was a very good day to be sailing the BMW Oracle USA 17 trimaran, which overcame a funky start with penalties and an early jump to the lead by the Swiss boat Alinghi, to win the 1st round of the America’s Cup.
The Oracle USA-17 won by 15 minutes and 28 seconds on the 40 nautical mile racecourse, reaching an incredible 22 knots of speed, about 3 times the air windspeed over the Mediterranean, which was very light. At the end of the first 20 mile turnaround point, the Oracle USA-17 had not only caught up to and passed the ploddering Swiss Alinghi, but had a whopping 1,200 meter lead of nearly a mile.
Oracle, bankrolled by Silicon Valley billionaire Larry Ellison, zoomed into the starting box with its windward and centre hulls out of the water and Spithill (note: Jimmy Spithill, the Aussie captain of the Oracle USA-17) steered straight at Alinghi. The Swiss wanted to sail in front of Oracle, but didn’t have enough speed and both boats had to tack. Oracle raised a protest flag, and the umpire in a trailing boat concurred.
That meant Alinghi, funded and steered by Swiss biotech billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli, had to perform a 270-degree penalty turn at some point in the 64-kilometre race.
Spithill somehow stalled Oracle over the line early with less than 15 seconds before the starting gun, and Alinghi sprinted off the line. Oracle had to go back and restart, putting it well behind.
Given that these 2 triple carbon hulled sailboats, with sails a big as a jetliner’s wing, might be roughly equal to each other in speed, (because wind conditions vary, the boat that goes “faster” on a relatively calm day may not actually be the faster boat if that other boat goes faster on a day with a good stiff breeze with better manueverability, and the other boat can’t be steadied nor steered as well, or worse, it falls apart ) which one ultimately succeeds is going to come down to how the sailing crew can make the thing respond to the unexpected, and do things like tacking (turning.)
So far, in calm conditions, this looks very good for Oracle USA-17, especially since pre race hype seemed to imply Alinghi, being Swiss, had that European engineering cachet of superior speed. But will she hold together if they go out in a real wind and not a hamster fart ?
Photos of the race may be seen here:
The next round of the America’s Cup is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb 16, depending on wind and wave conditions.