The America's Cup was in jeopardy. It was not in danger of being surrendered by one competitor to another, but rather of sinking in a maelstrom of court filings, motions, and bitter boilerplate legalese. The worst of all outcomes was threatening: no races to honor the Cup and its glorious history. Throughout the court battles, there was no love lost between the heads of the competing syndicates, Cupholder Ernesto Bertarelli of Alinghi and Larry Ellison of BMW Oracle Racing.
After more than a year of wrangling, the legal system spit out the case, ordering a race to happen. And so it did, rendering a most simple end—a best-of-three race series—to a complex legal question that caused close reading and enforcement of the venerable Deed of Gift that sets forth the rules governing the Cup.
That’s why BMW Oracle Racing’s 114-foot trimaran, USA, met Alinghi 5, a 90-foot catamaran representing the Société Nautique de Genève, off the coast of Valencia, Spain. As in every America’s Cup race, technology played a role, but this time around it was heightened by the court-imposed time frame of the race. In the end, it pitted the wing-masted USA against the soft sails of Alinghi 5.
The BMW Oracle Racing team proved the wing to be king, but there is little chance of skyscraper-tall wing sails suddenly becoming the norm. For the team, the most stressful times were the process of stepping the wing mast. They decided to keep it in situ for the Cup, but couldn’t leave it even for a moment. A team of C-class catamaran specialists had to “baby-sit” USA’s 223-foot wing each night, for fear that a sudden gust would either capsize the trimaran or pull it from its mooring.