VALENCIA, Spain -- Once again, the landlocked Swiss are masters of the ocean.
The Alinghi team from Switzerland -- a country more often associated with Alpine skiing and mountain climbing -- successfully defended the venerable America's Cup yesterday, beating Emirates Team New Zealand by one second to win the best-of-nine series, 5-2.
The finish of the seventh race of the 32d America's Cup was so close that fans on both sides were beside themselves with joy, each believing its team had won.
"Aside from the birth of my children, [today] is the best day of my life," Alinghi owner Ernesto Bertarelli said.
Alinghi took the Auld Mug trophy away from the sailing-proud Kiwis by beating them, 5-0, off Auckland in 2003, bringing the cup to Europe for the first time.
Bertarelli was the only Swiss aboard the winning boat. Born in Italy, the biotech billionaire with an MBA from Harvard put together a winning team made up of six New Zealanders, three Americans, two Italians, and one each from Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, and Spain.
Bertarelli's formula was to set up a smooth, corporate-style team drawing on the world's best talent. Bertarelli even compared the team to the nation of Switzerland, in the center of Europe.
"We had to be open to other cultures," he said. "We grow bigger through diversity."
That diversity upset a lot of Kiwi fans because so many of Alinghi's sailors came from New Zealand.
Alinghi hired key sailors in the Kiwis' 2000 defense of the cup, including Russell Coutts, who left in 2004, and current skipper Brad Butterworth.
New Zealand fans were outraged, sending hate mail and death threats to the Swiss team, and even setting up a group called BlackHeart to jeer Kiwis who sailed for the "enemy."
It seemed Alinghi's boat, SUI100, was in danger of sinking when it arrived at the victory dock with at least three times its normal crew of 17 aboard.
The 80-foot carbon fiber yacht glided through a red carpet-like belt of red confetti to reach the prize podium, where the team hopped onto a real red carpet.
Bertarelli was carried to the podium by his crew, where he hoisted the coveted cup over his head and kissed it. That was only after Butterworth, now a four-time cup winner, put an Alinghi baseball cap atop the 156-year-old trophy.
After 5-0 sweeps in the previous three finals, the races this year were close throughout, all seven being decided by less than a minute.
Alinghi sailed past the first mark with a seven-second lead yesterday. The Swiss stayed ahead by 14 seconds around the second buoy, but the Kiwis gained two seconds to make it a 12-second deficit beginning the final leg.
After incurring a right-of-way penalty for trying to cross behind the Swiss before the third buoy, the Kiwis rallied and appeared to take a brief lead. At the end, though, Alinghi barely won out.
"Just not enough has been the theme," said Terry Hutchinson, tactician aboard the Kiwi boat.