Space-age trimaran wins back America’s Cup for US

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After one of the most tumultuous periods in its 159-year run, the America’s Cup, once again, belongs to America.

Still bundled against the cold in his white foul-weather gear, software tycoon Larry Ellison hoisted the America’s Cup high in the air, then planted a kiss on the oldest trophy in international sports.

“Valencia — muchas gracias!” the self-made billionaire screamed, following the ride of his life across the Mediterranean on one of the most remarkable boats ever built.

The Cup was swept away from Europe by Ellison’s space-age trimaran, which has a gigantic wing for a sail and easily sped ahead of two-time defending champion Alinghi of Switzerland to complete a two-race sweep in the 33rd America’s Cup on Sunday.

“I am so proud of this team, I am so proud to be part of this team, and I am especially proud to bring the America’s Cup, once again, after a long absence, back to the United States of America,” said the 65-year-old Ellison, the CEO of Oracle Corp.

The Auld Mug, as the ornate silver jug is also known, now belongs to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Yacht Club.

BMW Oracle Racing CEO Russell Coutts, who has quite a bit of experience at winning the America’s Cup, popped the cork on a magnum of champagne and sprayed his boss, as well as tactician John Kostecki and skipper-helmsman Jimmy Spithill of Australia.

A blizzard of blue and silver confetti blew across the stage and fireworks went off across Port America’s Cup, a festive ending to a bitter 2 1/2-year period that dragged sailing’s marquee event to one of its lowest points.

Ellison and rival Ernesto Bertarelli — two of the world’s wealthiest men — had been locked in a court fight since July 2007, and it looked for a while like the result of this race was going to be contested off the water.

Alinghi raised a red protest flag on its giant catamaran late on the first leg of the triangle course during Race 2, leaving everyone wondering what it was about since there’s no communication off the boats.

The Swiss dropped the protest after the race, confirming Ellison’s win. They were unhappy about a prestart penalty, but decided it wouldn’t have an outcome on the race.

Asked if the Americans planned to drop litigation pending against the Swiss in the New York State Supreme Court, Ellison said: “The only thing we ever wanted was to beat Alinghi on the water with a fair set of rules. And that’s what we got today.”

Bertarelli wasn’t at the handover ceremony, but he and Ellison briefly shook hands when the Swiss exited the post-race news conference.

The biotech mogul became the first European to win the America’s Cup in 2003 with a victory over Team New Zealand, and defended it against the Kiwis in 2007.

“Congratulations to the BMW Oracle team, their boat was faster,” Bertarelli said. “They had a strategy, they got a little help from the legal system in New York and that always makes it difficult for us Europeans and that gave them advantages.

“They were faster, good on them,” he continued. “We didn’t have a boat that was quite fast enough. We didn’t lay down. We fought as hard as we could and we exit with our head high.”

The America’s Cup has been away from U.S. shores for 15 years, the longest drought since the schooner America won the silver trophy by beating a fleet of British ships around the Isle of Wight in 1851. Dennis Conner lost it in 1995 to Team New Zealand and Coutts, now a four-time America’s Cup winner.

Ellison and Kostecki were the only Americans on BMW Oracle’s crew for the clincher. The massive sailboat was steered by Spithill, who at age 30 was sailing in his fourth America’s Cup.

“The boys are just absolutely lit up,” Spithill said as the boat headed into port in the Valencian dusk. “Larry’s stoked, Russell’s stoked and we just can’t wait to get back to shore to celebrate.”

While Ellison’s fortune made the victory possible, the true star was his monster black-and-white trimaran and its radical 223-foot wing sail, which powered the craft at three times the speed of the wind, sending its windward and middle hulls flying well above the water. The wing has nine flaps on its trailing edge and allowed the yacht to sail closer to the wind, and therefore faster than the Swiss.

When the yacht hooked into a breeze, it seemed as if Spithill jammed down an accelerator.

One of the lasting images of this America’s Cup will be that of Spithill, decked out in technology seemingly straight out of Star Wars, calmly steering from his airborne helm as the boat sped along the Spanish coast.

“It’s just such an awesome tool for racing,” Spithill said.

The American trimaran took a 28-second lead rounding the first mark Sunday and powered toward the horizon while sailing across the wind on the second leg. The final margin for two of the fastest, most technologically advanced sailboats built was 5 minutes, 25 seconds.

“That was one hell of a boat race,” Spithill said. “I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Alinghi had to do a 270-degree penalty at the finish, the result of its second prestart blunder in as many races. The Swiss boat was in the starting box before the 5-minute gun sounded, giving BMW Oracle an instant boost.

While the Americans headed out to the left side of the course, Alinghi did a downspeed tack and took the right side. The move paid off when the Swiss gained during a wind shift and powered into the lead about a third of the way up the leg.

Alinghi crossed ahead of BMW Oracle approaching the first mark, but lost speed during a tack and the Americans sailed ahead — and never looked back.

Ellison joins Harold Vanderbilt, Ted Turner and Bill Koch among the tycoons who’ve hoisted the silver trophy.

Ellison and Bertarelli fought over their interpretations of the 1887 Deed of Gift, which governs the America’s Cup. Ellison’s syndicate eventually prevailed, forcing the rare head-to-head showdown.

This was only the second Deed of Gift match in modern times. The other was in 1988, when Conner steered his catamaran to a two-race sweep of New Zealand’s big monohull in San Diego.

The America’s Cup likely will return to its normal system of several challengers competing in sloops for the right to face the defender. Ellison confirmed, in a roundabout way, that Italian syndicate Mascalzone Latino will be the next Challenger of Record, helping to set the rules for the 34th America’s Cup.

The ornate trophy itself is headed for the Golden Gate Yacht Club, which sits on a public jetty in the heart of San Francisco’s cityfront, with views of one of the world’s most famous bridges and Alcatraz Island.

Rough estimates are that each side spent $200 million on their entire campaigns, a staggering cost for two races.

When did Bertarelli know the Cup was lost?

“The first race,” he said. “The first beat. I was very surprised by the first 20 minutes of the race. We were out of range most of the time. We were surprised.”


AP Sports Writer Paul Logothetis contributed to this report.