DUBAI // Ships of the desert were used last night to ferry in six of the world's leading sailors to Dubai International Marine Club for the launch of the Louis Vuitton Trophy regatta, which promises to provide spectacular viewing in Gulf waters the next two weeks.
James Spithill, helmsman of the BMW Oracle team who earlier this year wrested the America's Cup from Alinghi, took pride of place on a procession of camel-riding skippers into the official draw ceremony for the first series of round-robin match races tomorrow.
Spithill, 30, expressed his pride at becoming the youngest sailor in the 160-year history of the America's Cup to command a winning crew, an achievement that earned him yachtsman of the year status in his native Australia.
He said it was "an honour to bring about the fulfilment of a long quest" by Larry Ellison, the founder of the Oracle Corporation. He added that it was "a team effort with so many people contributing so much".
Spithill was accompanied by the leaders of the other five teams taking part in the regatta: Dean Barker (Emirates Team New Zealand), Francesco Bruni (Synergy), Gavin Brady (Mascalzone Latino Audi), Cameron Appleton (Artemis) and Jochen Schumann (All for One).
There was a hint of sadness at the ceremony, though, because the regatta will mark a watershed for the event which has been a traditional elimination series for American Cup challengers.
With the next America's Cup, the 34th, becoming a clash of multi-hull vessels, this will be the last time the sleek, 24-metre craft are seen in serious international competitive action.
Bruno Trouble, the experienced French yachtsman who has been associated with the America's Cup and Louis Vuitton series for nearly 30 years, lamented the ending of a sailing era as he looked forward to what he expects to be an excellent conclusion to the Louis Vuitton Trophy.
"The wind we've had over the last few days indicates that we are going to have two weeks of excellent match racing," he said as he oversaw a draw which paired the favourites Team New Zealand with Mascalzone on the opening day.
The other match-ups for the first of two round robins were Artemis against Synergy and Oracle against All for One.
The round robins will determine the semi-finalists who then will competer for a place in the final on November 27.
Saeed Harib, chief executive of Dubai International Marine Club, said: "We look forward every year to host some of the top events in water sport. And having the concluding regatta of such an important event as the Louis Vuitton Trophy take place off the shore of Dubai is wonderful for us."