RAS AL KHAIMAH // Alinghi V, the new yacht saddled with the responsibility of keeping the America's Cup in the Swiss hands of multi-billionaire businessman Ernesto Bertarelli, should be sailing on Gulf waters before the end of next week. Officials of the defending team who will be based in Al Hamra, Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), for the next four months in advance of the three-race series between February 8 to 12, would not specify their exact UAE launch date as extensive checks are being carried out on the gigantic catamaran.
Alinghi's arrival at Saqr Port, RAK last week took place under a veil of secrecy because of concerns over possible damage on the 4,400-nautical-mile journey from its previous training base in Genoa, Italy. Paco Latorre, head of marketing and communications at Alinghi, explained: "We didn't want to make any announcement until our boat was off-loaded from the cargo ship and found to be safe. It took us a full day to establish that everything was intact."
Once the state-of-the-art vessel - which is to be skippered by Australian Brad Butterworth - was given the all-clear it was towed from its landing bay to its new headquarters and docked ahead of schedule before 10 o'clock yesterday morning. The boat was then lifted by a crane and despatched into a specially prepared tented area. Alinghi, which was originally launched on Lake Geneva and then lifted by helicopter to Genoa was dismantled for its journey down the Suez Canal to the Middle East.
Latorre disclosed: "We kept the hull [which measures 90ft x 90ft] in one piece but we detached the mast, the rigging and all the appendages to make the transportation as smooth as possible. The boat was then reassembled at our RAK base ready for its transfer to our new base." More than half of Alinghi's team of 100 have now arrived in RAK to prepare for an intense training programme before the 33rd America's Cup battle is joined with American challenger BMW Oracle Racing.
"Our personnel will work on a combination of training and boat development," said Latorre. "The boat is very new so there may be some technical problems. The intention is to be sailing from Al Hamra village from the middle of the month." Latorre emphasised that he and his Alinghi colleagues are working on schedule for the defence of the Cup, despite the on-going threats to the racing taking place because of a series of court actions brought by BMW Oracle. "The message to the people of the UAE who want this competition to go ahead as planned is to be optimistic that this will be a great event. Hopefully one day they [Oracle] will end up showing up and we can get on with the racing instead of the litigation.
"The way we see it is that we keep moving forward in trying to have this competition on the water in RAK. We will have our entire team there in a week or so. What we want is to have a normal competition on the water instead of them disputing every decision that the Alinghi team make. We hope this is the last hiccup we have to deal with." Asked whether he thought that the Oracle team funded by software mogul Larry Ellison and led by Russell Coutts, renowned as one of the finest sailors in history, are scared of fronting up for the best-of-three series, Latorre said: "That's what it looks like. They keep making excuses and putting forward legal arguments. It is like little kids, when they cry for the first time you pay attention. When they cry for the 10th time you say come on, sit down and be silent."
Asked then for his opinion on whether the racing will actually take place, Latorre concluded: "It is difficult to predict what is going to happen. You never know what the courts are going to decide. "We have declared our intentions by arriving in RAK. But it's not only us but our opponents. BMW Oracle have people and equipment and the logistics to go to RAK. It's a bit of a double language they are speaking. One one hand they are contesting matters in court and on the other getting ready and sending people and equipment to RAK."