VALENCIA, Spain — Tearing along the Mediterranean so fast it nearly lifted all the way out of the water, BMW Oracle Racing's trimaran USA made up for a bad start and put an American team on the verge of winning the America's Cup for the first time since 1995.
BMW Oracle Racing's USA overtook two-time defending champion Alinghi of Switzerland on Friday and sped off with the first race of their showdown.
The 223-foot radical wing sail on USA clearly is flying the America's Cup right into a new era.
"The designers did a brilliant job," said Larry Ellison, who didn't even get to sail aboard the boat he owns because of a weight limit. "The piece of the kit that we're most proud of is the wing. We think it's a terrific engine for this boat."
Even Ellison's staunch rival, Swiss biotech mogul Ernesto Bertarelli, was impressed.
"They were fast, and the wing seems to be quite a weapon," said Bertarelli, who steered the losing boat.
Flying hulls is what makes multihulls so fast, because getting one or more floats out of the water reduces drag. The trimaran did it with such ease that the winning margin of 15 minutes, 28 seconds overshadowed an error that left the Americans stalled at the start of the 40-mile race on a windward-leeward loop.
BMW Oracle Racing is one win away from bringing the America's Cup back to the United States for the first time since Dennis Conner lost it in 1995 to Team New Zealand and Russell Coutts, who is BMW Oracle Racing's CEO. If the Americans win, the oldest trophy in international sports will belong to San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club.
Race 2 in the best-of-three series is scheduled for Sunday over a triangle course with 13-mile legs.
The sight of USA's windward hull flying some 20 feet over the waves, and of 30-year-old skipper Jimmy Spithill of Australia steering from his airborne position, has given the America's Cup a whole new look. Even the center hull lifts out of the water when the boat gets going.
In the starting box, the Swiss failed to tack out of the way of the American boat in time and drew a 270-degree turn penalty from the umpire in a trailing boat. But Spithill stalled USA in going over the starting line too soon, and Alinghi sprinted ahead. Spithill had to go back and restart, leaving USA about 660 meters behind.
Then the wing sail worked like the U.S. syndicate hoped it would, and the Americans overtook Alinghi as the boats went into the wind. USA led by 3:21 at the windward mark. Showing remarkable speed sailing with the wind on the 20-mile run to the finish, it opened a lead of more than 2 miles.
The fastest, most technologically advanced boats in the 159-year history of the America's Cup, they hit approximately 22 knots in just 6 or 7 knots of wind.
Looking like an airplane wing, USA's 190-foot wing sail has nine flaps on the trailing edge. It's bigger than the wing of an Airbus A380, the world's biggest passenger airliner. The spar allows the trimaran to accelerate and maneuver better than with a traditional soft-sail rig.
"They sailed from behind to in front us," Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth said. "They certainly showed how fast they get their boat going. They couldn't have come off the line in a worse position, and they wound up in a very strong position. When you're sitting right in front of them and they sail up and around you, it's speed. Finesse."
NOOD regatta: Friday's foul weather on Tampa Bay forced race officials at the National Offshore One Design regatta to postpone the start of racing to 9:30 a.m. today. More than 1,000 sailors will compete in 11 fleets in the water just off the Pier in downtown St. Petersburg. Competition is scheduled for Sunday as well.