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America's Cup

Blown away by BMW Oracle

Prize returns after 15 years

Skipper Jimmy Spithill (left) and BMW Oracle owner Larry Ellison pose with their booty won in two races with Alinghi. Skipper Jimmy Spithill (left) and BMW Oracle owner Larry Ellison pose with their booty won in two races with Alinghi. (Heino Kalis/Reuters)
By Bernie Wilson
Associated Press / February 15, 2010

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VALENCIA, Spain - Still bundled against the cold in his white foul-weather gear, software tycoon Larry Ellison hoisted the America’s Cup high, then planted a kiss on the oldest trophy in international sports.

“Valencia - muchas gracias!’’ the self-made billionaire screamed, following the ride of his life across the Mediterranean on one of the most remarkable boats ever built.

The America’s Cup is back in American hands. It was swept away from Europe by Ellison’s space-age trimaran, which has a gigantic wing for a sail and easily sped ahead of two-time defending champion Alinghi of Switzerland to complete a two-race sweep yesterday in the 33d America’s Cup.

The Auld Mug, as the ornate silver jug is also known, now belongs to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Yacht Club.

BMW Oracle Racing CEO Russell Coutts, who has quite a bit of experience at winning the America’s Cup, popped the cork on a magnum of champagne and sprayed his boss, as well as tactician John Kostecki and skipper-helmsman Jimmy Spithill of Australia.

A blizzard of blue and silver confetti blew across the stage and fireworks went off across Port America’s Cup, a festive ending to a tumultuous period. Ellison, the 65-year-old CEO of Oracle Corp., and Babson College-educated rival Ernesto Bertarelli - two of the world’s wealthiest men - had been locked in a court fight since July 2007.

Asked if the Americans planned to drop litigation pending against the Swiss in the New York State Supreme Court, Ellison said: “The only thing we ever wanted was to beat Alinghi on the water with a fair set of rules. And that’s what we got today.’’

Bertarelli wasn’t at the handover ceremony, but he and Ellison briefly shook hands when the Swiss exited the postrace news conference.

The biotech mogul became the first European to win the America’s Cup in 2003 with a victory over Team New Zealand, and defended it against the Kiwis in 2007.

The America’s Cup has been away from US shores for 15 years, the longest drought since the schooner America won the silver trophy by beating a fleet of British ships around the Isle of Wight in 1851. Dennis Conner lost it in 1995 to Team New Zealand and Coutts, now a four-time America’s Cup winner.

Ellison and Kostecki were the only Americans on BMW Oracle’s crew for the clincher. The massive sailboat was steered by Spithill, who at age 30 was sailing in his fourth America’s Cup.

“The boys are just absolutely lit up,’’ Spithill said as the boat headed into port in the Valencian dusk. “Larry’s stoked, Russell’s stoked, and we just can’t wait to get back to shore to celebrate.’’

While Ellison’s fortune made the victory possible, the true star was his monster black-and-white trimaran and its radical 223-foot wing sail, which powered the craft at three times the speed of the wind, sending its windward and middle hulls flying well above the water. The wing has nine flaps on its trailing edge and allowed the yacht to sail closer to the wind, and therefore faster than the Swiss.

When the yacht hooked into a breeze, it seemed as if Spithill jammed down an accelerator.

One of the lasting images of this America’s Cup will be that of Spithill, decked out in technology seemingly straight out of “Star Wars,’’ calmly steering from his airborne helm as the boat sped along the Spanish coast.

“It’s just such an awesome tool for racing,’’ Spithill said.

The American trimaran took a 28-second lead rounding the first mark and powered toward the horizon while sailing across the wind on the second leg. The final margin was 5 minutes 25 seconds.

“That was one hell of a boat race,’’ Spithill said. “I enjoyed every minute of it.’’