AUCKLAND: Swiss challengers Alinghi became the first European team to win the America's Cup when they beat holders Team New Zealand by 45 seconds in the fifth race yesterday to claim the series 5-0.
Alinghi led from start to finish in the six-leg course in the Hauraki Gulf off Auckland, a fitting way to end a regatta they completely dominated.
The jubilant crew, led by syndicate head Ernesto Bertarelli and former New Zealand skipper Russell Coutts and tactician Brad Butterworth, hugged and sprayed champagne after they crossed the finish line.
“I'm incredibly proud of what we achieved with Alinghi,” Coutts told Television New Zealand.
Biotechnology billionaire Bertarelli danced with joy as he stood at the stern of his graphite grey and red boat, which flew a huge banner depicting the America's Cup atop the Matterhorn and the words “We did it” as they were towed back to base.
The crew also hoisted a broom to indicate their clean sweep of the series, in which they also became the first team to win the Cup on their first attempt.
Italian-born biotechnology billionaire Bertarelli's success came after some of Europe's richest men, from Sir Thomas Lipton to Baron Bich and fashion mogul Patrizio Bertelli, had tried and failed over the past 152 years.
The loss ended a disastrous defence for New Zealand, whose boat was clearly inferior.
Their hapless campaign ended in near farce when the boat's spinnaker fouled on the fourth leg and the spinnaker pole snapped. The boat's dejected crew threw the shattered carbon fibre pole over the side and replaced it with a spare.
“What can you say, they've been phenomenal. They sailed an incredibly good regatta, totally dominant throughout,” a grim-faced Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker said.
Team New Zealand failed to finish in two races – unprecedented in Cup history. They pulled out on the first leg of race one on Feb 15 when their boat took on up to six tonnes of water, causing a chain reaction of gear breakages.
Crew errors handed Alinghi races two and three but then New Zealand's boat was spectacularly dismasted in race four on Friday.
Bertarelli's team won the Cup for a landlocked country better known for producing alpine skiiers than sailors.
He has not yet decided where he will defend the Cup but has mentioned several Italian or French Mediterranean ports and Lisbon as possibilities.
The victory also marked a personal triumph for Coutts. Yesterday’s win was his 14th in America's Cup match races, one better than American Dennis Conner's record set over four Cups. – Reuters