Coutts is king

Alinghi's former AC winner takes control on the final day of the CORM Race Committee Trials, reports John Roberson

Tuesday March 5th 2002, Author: John Roberson, Location: Australasia
On the final day of the 'practice' series of the America's Cup challengers in Auckland, Russell Coutts took charge of the Swiss Challenge's Alinghi, and showed why he is the master. Using the boat that was the dunce of the last Louis Vuitton Cup, the former BeHappy, he chalked up two swift victories, to demonstrate that he is still the king of America's Cup sailing.

Backing up Coutts were Brad Butterworth, and the man with the cheque book, Ernesto Bertarelli, the young Swiss billionaire who is funding this campaign. They chalked up victories over GBR Challenge and Oracle, to end the series with the best performance of those taking part - not that anyone is counting in this regatta.

The conditions were perfect for the second day in succession, with 17 to 24 knots of south-westerly wind from the south west, and bright sunshine. With the breeze coming off the land, the Hauraki Gulf was relatively flat, making for some fast sailing.

In the first race of the day the Alinghi team faced up to GBR Challenge, with Andy Beadsworth at the helm for the second day in a row, and Adrian Stead plus Ian Walker at his shoulder. Although the British team were aggressive in the pre-start, they couldn't get the better of the Coutts crew, and in the end it seemed that the Swiss let the Brits off the hook, going for a clean start and boatspeed.

Although GBR Challenge managed to stay close for the first half of the first leg, they could not match the speed that Coutts squeezed out of this once woeful boat. In the end Alinghi took the gun by about two minutes.

With Prada declining to join the games on Tuesday, the other match in the first flight was between OneWorld in the hands of James Spithill, and Oracle steered by John Cutler. The team from Seattle got the better of the start, and never looked threatened.

In the second flight of the day Alinghi faced Oracle, while GBR Challenge squared off against OneWorld.

The Alinghi/Oracle match turned into a classic battle, one of the best seen on the Hauraki Gulf, rivalling the best from the last Louis Vuitton Cup. John Cutler managed to out-manoeuvre Coutts on the starting line, and came away with a slight advantage, but no lead is safe against this man, and a small lead can be a liability.

On the first windward leg, Coutts slipped ahead, but Cutler re-gained the advantage to round the windward mark 17 seconds ahead. Down wind the battle was on for young and old, with gybe after gybe being thrown, until the Swiss gained the advantage. However Cutler and his Oracle crew weren't giving up, and the two boats traded tack for tack up the second beat, though the Americans just couldn't break through, they were always within a few boat lengths.

Coutts defended his lead on the run to the finish, but was constantly under threat. One would have to say that the boat handling on Alinghi was as good as you would expect from a crew under the command of Russell Coutts, but that for the first time Oracle started to look like a crew who have put in nearly two years on the water.

In the other match of the second flight, GBR Challenge were outclassed by OneWorld on the starting line, and never got back into the game.

In general over the series, one would have to say that the boathandling by teams that have spent so long training was disappointing. Every team had their good races and bad races, but one expects consistently slicker on board work from crews at this level of the sport.

It is hard to draw conclusions from a series like this, with not all the boats sailing all the races, and some swapping of roles on board, but there is no doubt that with the former BeHappy converted to conventional mode, from her two keel configuration, is now on the pace with other boats of her era. GBR Challenge are still effectively aggressive in the pre-starts, but it is obvious that they are sailing a boat that was struggling to be competitive in the last Louis Vuitton Cup, but given a good boat this team could surprise people from October onwards.

Due to an unusual agreement between the challenging syndicates taking part to attempt a news black-out with this series, GBR Challenge were unavailable to comment about how they felt they had got on at the trials.

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