33rd America's Cup - Day 5 - Race 1: BMW Oracle scores amazing victory
It was a historic day in Valencia and it could be summed up in two sentences. Firstly, no matter how big the boats are, James Spithill is without the singlest doubt the world's greatest match racer. I was convinced about that in 2005, just as I was in 2007 and now in 2010. Secondly, BMW Oracle's wing sail proved to be light years ahead of Alinghi's conventional sails. Not only that, the opening race of the 33rd America's Cup took place in conditions that up to yesterday, conventional wisdom was calling favorable to Alinghi. Relatively flat seas and a light breeze, between 5 and 10 knots.
After a long delay of four and a half hours, Harold Bennett fired the gun under a very light breeze of 4 to 5 knots. The prestart as well flew in the face of conventional wisdom that conventional match racing tactics wouldn't work with these huge multihulls. BMW Oracle entered from the starboard side and James Spithill flew towards Alinghi 5. Apparently Ernesto Bertarelli didn't expect it and the Swiss boat got caught in a port-starboard incident. They couldn't cross ahead ,they were forced to tack and failed to keep clear. The umpires immediately penalized Alinghi 5 and the two boats went into dialup, over the starting line, one minute before the start.
BMW Oracle rounds the weather mark in the 1st race of the 33rd America's Cup 3:21 minutes ahead of Alinghi. Valencia, 12 February 2010. Photo copyright Gilles Martin -Raget / BMW Oracle
BMW Oracle's USA stalled, unable to move, while Bertarelli turned Alinghi 5 around, crossing the line at full speed. It took more than 1:30 minutes for Spithill to recross and at that time Alinghi was 660 meters ahead. The two yachts went into a long drag race to the right layline of the course that clearly showed the speed advantage USA had over Alinghi 5. Slowly but steadily, BMW Oracle ate into Alinghi's advantage and 15 minutes into the beat they were ahead.
From that point on it was a one-way race. It was impossible for Alinghi to keep up with the Americans. Their advantage kept increasing first to 500 meters, then to 1,000 while the delta at the weather mark was 3:21 minutes. The two yachts takced only twice in the beat and it seems it didn't cost them as much as initially thought.
Yet, the carnage would come downwind where USA's wing was simply unbeatable. BMW Oracle often had a 5-knot speed advantage over Alinghi and kept piling up the hundreds of meters of lead. When the Americans crossed the finish line, Alinghi 5 was 3.5 kilometers behind. By the time they offloaded their penalty, BMW Oracle had won by 15:28 minutes.
BMW Oracle racing Alinghi upwind. Valencia, 12 February 2010. Photo copyright Gilles Martin -Raget / BMW Oracle