Trophy defender Alinghi that had won by surprise in New Zealand was forced to choose a coastal venue. Valencia emerged victorious from the “barrage” with Marseille and Naples and was named the host of the event that would change the face of the city. Many hoped that Italian-born Bertarelli would have chosen Naples but the more disillusioned were certain that precisely because of his nationality, the Swiss businessman wasn’t confident that Bagnoli had the potential to be transformed in just a few years
Read the previous episode: America’s Cup 2003, won by a landlocked country
From the organisational and night-life points of view, the 32nd edition would be hard to beat. Except that eleven teams signed up for the Louis Vuitton Cup with a syndicate coming from South Africa for the first time ever. It was Team Shosholoza (named after a popular song) owned by the Italian Salvatore Sarno who had made his fortune in Cape Town and it immediately became the crowd favourite. The team won 9 out of 20 trials.
Three Italian challengers
For Italy, Luna Rossa Challenge signed up again with an even more international and champion-packed crew and was joined by the flag of the Yacht Club Italiano of Genoa that brought two more syndicates to Valencia, marking the return of Mascalzone Latino, skippered by Vasco Vascotto and Flavio Favini, and the curiosity-sparking +39, the team created by Circolo Vela Gargnano, the most prestigious club on Lake Garda. It was the first-ever lake challenger although many of the big names on the crew were British, starting from ace Iain Percy.
The other Louis Vuitton Cup competitors were old acquaintances (Areva Challenge from France, Victory Challenge from Sweden, Desafio Espanol from Spain) with some newcomers, like the Germans of Team Germany and China Team with a nearly all French crew. Then there were the two favourites: Team New Zealand, that had called ocean-sailing legend Grant Dalton to be the new Peter Blake, and BMW Oracle Racing, even better prepared than in Auckland.
The surprise of Desafio Espanol
The round robins, that begin in April 2007 to determine the fourth semi-finalist, were an exciting affair. Team New Zealand and BMW Oracle Racing were too strong and finished tied with 17 wins in 20 races. Luna Rossa Challenge performed well and lost only one more race than they had. The hosting country’s boat Desafio Espanol, skippered by Luis Doreste, managed to get the better of Victory Challenge by just one point while Mascalzone Latino Capitalia finished sixth with ten wins and as many losses. Things did not go well for +39, stopped by technical problems and budget troubles. They closed the adventure with five successes.
Team New Zealand won the semi-finals conceding two races to Desafio Espanol while Bertelli’s crew beat BMW Oracle Racing 5-1. The Louis Vuitton Cup final offered Luna Rossa Challenge the chance to make up for the defeat suffered in Auckland in 2000. But the Kiwi boat found ideal light wind conditions and although the Italian team - led by James Spithill and Torben Grael - never let up, all five races ended in much the same unfortunate way. Team New Zealand was geared up and ready for the final clash when Bertelli announced that he would bow out only to reconsider the following year.
At the last mark
Alinghi was preparing to defend the cup without guru Russell Coutts, who had come into disagreement with Bertarelli over divergent views and perhaps personal matters. But the Swiss owner was certainly not one to be put off easily. In his place came American Ed Baird, an excellent helmsman, and the New Zealand crew members did not betray him. But this time, Team New Zealand was as strong as its rivals, and perhaps even stronger despite having a less performing boat. The score was 2:2 after the first four races with gaps never longer than 30 seconds.
In the fifth race, Alinghi won thanks to Dean Barker’s boat suffering spinnaker troubles and success in the sixth race was not ever in question. The decisive event took place on 3 July and it was a continuous up-and-down in the best match racing tradition. In the end, the Swiss boat crossed the finish line just one second in the lead. The defenders were victorious but the New Zealanders had been phenomenal.