America's Cup Begins with Drama

Friday, Feb 12, 2010  |  Updated 8:08 AM PDT
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VALENCIA, Spain (AP) -- The America's Cup showdown between the United States and Switzerland finally began on Friday, and each of the powerhouse sailing teams made an early critical mistake on the Mediterranean Sea.

American challenger BMW Oracle Racing's 90-by-90-foot trimaran, USA, flew into the starting box with its windward and center hulls out of the water on a cold, clear day, a breathtaking sight after the race had been postponed by unfavorable conditions on Monday and Wednesday.

USA helmsman Jimmy Spithill entered on favored starboard tack and steered straight at Alinghi 5, representing two-time defending champion Alinghi of Switzerland. The Swiss wanted to sail in front of USA, but didn't have enough speed and both boats had to tack. USA raised a protest flag, and the umpire in a trailing boat concurred.

That means the equally immense catamaran of Alinghi 5 will have to perform a 270-degree turn at some point in the 40-mile race.

Spithill somehow stalled USA, and Alinghi 5 sprinted off the line ahead.

But the American boat, which features a radical, 223-foot wing sail, slowly closed the gap and overtook Alinghi 5 on the 20-mile first leg into the wind.

This is the first time multihulls have sailed against each other in the 159-year history of the America's Cup, the byproduct of a bitter, 2½-year legal fight between American software tycoon Larry Ellison and Swiss biotech mogul Ernesto Bertarelli.

Bertarelli is steering Alinghi 5. Ellison hopped off USA and into a chase about 50 minutes before the race, apparently because of weight restrictions and light wind.

USA and Alinghi 5 are the fastest, most technologically advanced boats in America's Cup history. USA tested off the coast of San Diego for more than a year before the races began.

The opening race of the best-of-three series will finish with a 20-mile downwind leg.

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