Friday, January 16, 2009

"just a little regatta downunder".

Yachting: Teams serious about new series
By Dana Johannsen /NZ Herald - Photo / Paul Estcourt

The America's Cup holders Alinghi and several other teams competing in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series at the end of the month have taken to the waters off Valencia this week to hone their preparation before the inaugural regatta.

Alinghi, Italy's Luna Rossa, Shosholoza and Damiana Italia had practice match racing this week, while Greek Challenge and France's K-Challenge have also been getting in some training in Spain over the past week.

When plans for the Louis Vuitton series were announced in September last year it was written off in some quarters as "just a little regatta downunder".

But if ever there were an indication that the desire to be the first team to hold up the Louis Vuitton trophy is strong among the competing crews, this is it.

The stand-off between Alinghi and BMW-Oracle over the rules of the next America's Cup is certainly one of the main reasons the two syndicates are taking the regatta so seriously, with a great deal of pride tied up in the battle between the pair.

But with Oracle lending their boats to the Louis Vuitton series for allcomers to use (as are Team New Zealand), Kiwi sailor Russell Coutts and his crew will have to wait until they arrive in Auckland next week to begin their preparations.

The Oracle shore crew, who have been busy preparing the boats in Auckland since just before Christmas, conducted their first sea trials off North Head yesterday.

On hand to help with the testing were a number of young Kiwi sailors from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron's academy programme, while Olympic board-sailing gold medallist Tom Ashley made a surprise appearance at the helm.

Team New Zealand expect to begin sea trials on their two boats to be loaned to the regatta on Monday. Chief operating officer Kevin Shoebridge said the team are also likely to use that opportunity to do some training of their own.

While the official practices for the regatta don't begin until next Saturday, Shoebridge insists this doesn't put the host team at an advantage over the others. "It was always our intention to make this event very even and for one team not to have the jump on the other.

"But because Oracle and ourselves are putting the boats together we're almost going to be the last on the water," said Shoebridge.

"So we'll be sea-trialling and doing a little bit of practice at the same time, but not a lot."
The teams are expected in Auckland from the middle of next week, ahead of the first practice session on January 24. With the teams having just five days to familiarise themselves with both pairs of boats, Shoebridge said the practice sessions will be fairly intensive.

"All 10 teams will be out there every day, they'll all get a 2-hour block on the different boats over the five days to try and give people as much time as possible to learn the systems.

"The worst thing that could happen is that we have major damage and we lose a boat for 2 or 3 days." -