We had hated each other so much. Or: you again, but weren’t we supposed to see each other more? To paraphrase Ettore Scola and Lucio Battisti, these could be the “headlines” to tell the story of Alinghi ‘s return to the America’s Cup and Team New Zealand ‘s inevitable fears in knowing that a rather unwieldy diner now sits at the Old Pitcher’s table. Indeed, it appears that the syndicate led by Ernesto Bertarelli has paid the first token of entry, an abundant $1.5 million, to participate in the 37th America’s Cup to be held, in a still-secret location, in 2024. And it all adds up in the end: the tensions of the New Zealanders over the past few months, their communications, to say the least, unhinged, the encirclement complex that seemed to shine through their communiqués. Everything is now explained. Alinghi in New Zealand is a name that evokes gloomy memories.
To tell you about these fears requires a flashback of 20 years or more. It is March 2000, a few weeks since the Cup ended with Team New Zealand’s landslide victory over Luna Rossa. The Kiwis are living in a magical moment, Peter Blake is still alive, they won the Cup in 96 in San Diego and defended it 4 years later in their home waters. Everything looks perfect. But the nightmare is just around the corner. Ernesto Bertarelli, a wealthy Swiss businessman and avid sailor, has decided to try his hand at climbing the Cup, and he wants to spare no expense in doing so: he wants the top sailors around.
He learns that some of Team New Zealand’s top men, starting with Russel Coutts, helmsman and technical leader of that crew, are reportedly planning to leave the team and are considering joining a foreign union. New Zealand’s national drama unfolds, for no one at home could have imagined that the home idols had a price. And so we come to 2003, still in Auckland.
Alinghi is now a reality, and it is a real nightmare for the New Zealanders to see Russel Coutts, Brad Butterworth, Simon Daubney and several others aboard the Swiss-flagged boat-in short, the entire old guard of the team. Not least because in the meantime New Zealand is sailing in quicksand: the crew for the Cup in 2003 is very young, there is an acerbic Dean Barker at the helm, but above all, the Kiwis are prisoners of a boat that, literally, is treading water on all sides. The final against Alinghi is a massacre: Team New Zealand takes on water frighteningly on high-wind days, disalberates, and never really gets to be in the race. The inevitable 0-5 marks the worst moment in the country’s sports and sailing history.
If all that were not enough, even worse happens. In 2007 in Valencia, the Kiwis go for a rematch and come in with a solid team, with Terry Hutchinson’s graft at tactician, and a good boat. They again disposed of Luna Rossa with a 5-0 win in the challenger finals, and prepared for a showdown against Alinghi. The hated Coutts has left the helm to Ed Baird to get out of Alinghi, but at the tactician’s helm is always the never-too-nice Butterworth and in the sailing team also Italians such as Lorenzo Mazza, Ciccio Celon and Cicco Rapetti. The final is drawn out, New Zealand plays it almost even, the decisive point of 5-2 for the “Helvetians” is consumed on a “dramatic” day with Alinghi winning the decisive match by one second. Dean Barker’s desperate tears are symbolic of a defeat that still hurts like hell.
As in a story where the protagonists seem to spin through sliding doors that one does not know where they lead, paradoxically from that day begins the decline, in the Cup, of Alinghi, and the return to the top of Team New Zealand. Bertarelli remains embroiled in the 1vs1 match, after lengthy legal wrangling, against Larry Ellison and Oracle. Alinghi loses the Cup and, until this hours’ announcement, will no longer appear in the history of the ancient Trophy.
Kiwis, on the other hand, complete their personal, and strenuous, redemption. They still move on from the “sports suicide” of the 9-8 San Francisco 2013 loss to Oracle, but by now the time to bring the Pitcher back home is ripe. In the 2017 edition in Bermuda, the new Kiwi generation, led by Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, is laying down the law. The Cup returns to New Zealand and the rest is history with the 7-3 defense of 2021 against Luna Rossa.
THE ANTI HERRING STANDARD
One only has to quickly look back over this history to see how indigestible Alinghi’s name is to the defender. And that is why there was included in the
a stringent nationality standard. The idea that Burling and Tuke might go down the same road as Coutts and the others has been more than a fear for months.
It will therefore be interesting to see how Alinghi intends to set its challenge. In fact, 100% of the sailing team must be nationals of the Yacht Club of the challenge, or have been residents of that country for 18 months before March 17, 2021. In practice, market sailing is prevented, but foreigners from the previous edition (Spithill for example) could be reappointed. The only exception, for two team members, can be made for nations considered “emerging” on the Cup stage-we do not know if this criterion can be applied to Alinghi’s challenge, but it would seem not.
Much will depend on the country of the yacht club. Indeed, it is not a given that it will be a Swiss Club. Bertarelli, due to crew requirements, may in fact be looking elsewhere as well. A challenge for example from Spain or France would be possible. However, the entrepreneur has a Swiss sailing team, with which he has successfully participated in several professional high-level racing circuits in recent years. We will therefore soon find out more about his moves.
RED MOON SAYS PRESENT
Luna Rossa’s challenge is not news. Patrizio Bertelli since the days immediately following the 2021 final has made it abundantly clear that the Italian team will be there for the 37th. That said then there are the official moves to be made, and it was Max Sirena himself who confirmed that the formal acts are already underway. He did so on the occasion of the book on Luna Rossa’s challenge presented in Milan: “We have filed the Notice of Race (the written intention to participate in the 37th America’s Cup) and are waiting for confirmation from the New Zealanders. We don’t know where we’re going yet, but packing up takes no time at all.” The 2024 Cup is still a long way off, but it already stirs the nightly dreams of its protagonists.
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