Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Massive boats finally assume stage

VALENCIA, Spain — On a recent visit to his native Australia, America's Cup helmsman Jimmy Spithill squeezed in time to get his pilot's license.

It was a keen decision considering he has his hands on the wheel of one of the most mind-blowing sailboats ever built.

When the best-of-three 33rd America's Cup begins Monday in this Mediterranean port, weather permitting, the boats will be the stars.

And can these beasts fly.

Spithill will steer USA, a 90- by 90-foot trimaran representing American challenger BMW Oracle Racing, based in San Francisco and owned by software magnate Larry Ellison. It will try to wrest the oldest trophy in international sports away from Swiss two-time defending champion Alinghi, whose equally massive catamaran, Alinghi 5, will be steered by syndicate boss Ernesto Bertarelli, also an accomplished catamaran racer, instead of St. Petersburg's Ed Baird. The helmsman in Alighi's last Cup defense, Baird is primarily a monohull sailor, so Alinghi hired multihull specialists Alain Gautier and Loick Peyron to round out the team.

These are the fastest, most powerful and extreme boats in the 159 years of the America's Cup. When they hook into even the slightest breeze, their windward hulls fly off the water by up to 20 feet.

Capable of sailing at up to three times the speed of the wind, USA has flirted with 50 knots. Conventional America's Cup yachts average 11 or 12 knots under good conditions.

BMW Oracle Racing kept pushing the limits late last year when it added a radical wing sail, which towers 223 feet off the deck and is bigger than the wing of an Airbus A380, the world's biggest passenger airliner.

The scale of these boats is off the charts. Plop USA on the infield at Yankee Stadium and it would cover each base and home plate. Lay the wing sail on an NFL field and it would stretch from one goal line to just past the opposite 26-yard line.

Alinghi 5's trampoline, the mesh material that serves as the deck, is twice as big as a tennis court. Its mast is as tall as a 20-story building, and a crane is required to lift the furled, 1,300-pound mainsail off the boat.

"It's just stunning," Baird said. "The boats are as wide as container ships. They blast along, all the time, at 20 to 30 to 40 knots. I mean, they just go fast. And that's in the most moderate conditions."

Massive boats finally assume stage 02/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 6, 2010 9:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. St. Petersburg's Sebastien Bourdais vows to return for IndyCar finale

    Auto racing

    INDIANAPOLIS — Sebastien Bourdais was in one of the best race cars he'd ever had, so fast that most of his competitors thought he would win the pole for the Indianapolis 500.

    Sebastien Bourdais does physical therapy at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana in Indianapolis. Bourdais broke his pelvis, hip and two ribs in an accident during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on May 20. He plans to return home to St. Petersburg soon to continue therapy. [Associated Press]
  2. Yellow cards stall Rowdies offense in tie with St. Louis


    ST. PETERSBURG — It's not the result they wanted, but it certainly could have been worse. Neill Collins' 87th-minute header off a corner kick was the reward the Rowdies settled for Saturday night during a 1-1 draw with St. Louis before an announced 6,068 at Al Lang Stadium.

  3. Calvary Christian routs Pensacola Catholic to win state baseball title


    FORT MYERS — Calvary Christian left no doubt as to which baseball team in Class 4A was the best in Florida this season. The Warriors defeated Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium to claim the school's first state championship in any team sport. It also solidified a 30-0 season. …

    Matheu Nelson celebrates after scoring on a wild pitch during the first inning, when Calvary Christian took a 6-0 lead.
  4. Numerous lapses add up to frustrating Rays loss to Twins

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — While the Rays made some good defensive plays, threw a couple of big pitches when they needed to and got a few, and just a few, key hits, there were some obvious things they did wrong that led to them losing Saturday's game to the Twins 5-3:

    Rays reliever Tommy Hunter says the Twins’ tiebreaking homer came on a pitch that was “close to where I wanted it.”
  5. Rays journal: Steven Souza Jr. laughing right along after comical dive

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — Souza being Souza.

    That seemed to be the best way to describe the entertaining — and comically bad — dive Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. attempted in Friday's game, and the good humor he showed in handling the fallout, including a standing ovation his next at-bat from the …