x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Butterworth excited by RAK date

A winter training camp in Dubai tipped the balance in favour of the Swiss yacht Alinghi the last time the America's Cup was contested three years ago.

Alinghi's new catamaran Alinghi V sails during a training session on Lake Leman near Lausanne, Switzerland.
Alinghi's new catamaran Alinghi V sails during a training session on Lake Leman near Lausanne, Switzerland.

GENOA // A winter training camp in Dubai tipped the balance in favour of the Swiss yacht Alinghi the last time the America's Cup was contested three years ago. Brad Butterworth, victorious skipper in Valencia on that occasion, is hoping for similar good fortune to come his way in the UAE in February.

Butterworth is the leader of a team of more than 100 assembled by the multi-billionaire Swiss entrepreneur Ernesto Bertarelli who are seeking to make a successful defence of international sport's oldest trophy off the shores of Ras al Khaimah (RAK). Confidence is high of an Alinghi hat-trick, the team having initially captured the trophy from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in 2003 but Butterworth suggested that he and his colleagues might have lost their grip in the return match in 2007 but for their morale-boosting spell at Dubai Marina. "Those three months we spent in the UAE made the difference between us winning and losing to Team New Zealand," said Butterworth as he spoke about an emphatic 5-2 verdict in the 32nd staging of the competition.

"We were happy with the venue we had chosen in Valencia but we realised that the winter weather in Europe was not going to provide us with good sailing conditions at all time. So we looked for an alternative temporary base and Dubai was perfect. "New Zealanders like myself tend to know Dubai as a stopping off place when we travel to the other side of the world, so I for one knew what to expect. And all the other guys were impressed. We made the Barasti Bar, at the Marina, our second home.

"We had great racing conditions there. We were on our own so we could test things in private, something we couldn't always do in Valencia. We got to sail every day we wanted to sail and we returned to Valencia in top condition to make our cup defence." Butterworth and his colleagues believe RAK will be equally productive for Alinghi when they take on the American challenger BMW Oracle Racing in the three-race series next year.

"I am looking forward to RAK," said Butterworth as the team prepared to leave their current base, in Genoa, and meet Alinghi when the yacht arrives in RAK after being shipped down the Suez Canal. "I like that part of the Emirates. The landscape becomes more mountainous as you go further north. For me it's a nice place to sail." Butterworth has forged a reputation as being among the finest sailors in history on the strength of four previous America's Cup victories - the first two with his native Team New Zealand - and round-the-world exploits in the company of Peter Blake, whom he considers to be the best seaman he has ever met.

At 50, he has lost none of his hunger for success and is determined to repel the challenge of Oracle - a challenge which has been blighted by interminable court hearings over the rules of the competition. "It would be a huge waste if these boats don't come together because of some legal manoeuvre because they are built and ready to race," Butterworth declared. "We are delighted with Alinghi and I know the Oracle sailors are pleased with their boat.

"But I for one am extremely disappointed by all the legal stuff. You wonder what they are going to complain about next - the colour of our boat perhaps. Bring it on and let's settle this on the water, not in a court room." Butterworth likened Alinghi V and indeed the Oracle opposition vessel to Formula One cars. "These boats are state of the art vehicles that are both very fast for their size and weight," he enthused.

"As in F1, you need a good pit crew to look after them. Our people have come up with a unique boat for its time and we feel our on-shore team is second to none." The Alinghi skipper has complete confidence in those who will be under his command on the Gulf waters in February and intends where possible to leave them to their own devices. "I'm surrounded by a lot of good guys who I have known and worked with for most of my career," he remarked.

"I let my guys get on with their jobs. I have to deal with a lot of things out there but I am particularly interested in the actual sailing of the yacht. "Tactics has been my strength over the years so I tend to fill the role of tactician as well as skipper but also have an eye on maintaining team spirit. "If you don't work properly together as a team you will never win this thing." The numerical make-up of that Alinghi team remains the big imponderable. "We could sail with as many as 20 or as few as 14 but I genuinely don't know yet what the optimum number is because we've not yet had enough time on the boat," added Butterworth.

"When we launched it on Lake Geneva it was a brilliant day for all concerned but in order to get the boat to pin its ears back and show what it can do you need to be on the open seas. "Genoa has been pretty good for putting her through her paces but I think RAK will be even better and I can't wait to find out what this boat is capable of when we get there." @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae