CASCAIS, Portugal — Good weather allowed the high-tech catamarans of the America's Cup to finally make their promised flying start, marking a new era of the sailing classic that began Sunday without two-time winner Alinghi.
Oracle Racing No. 5 won a close fleet race as the 45-foot long carbon fiber boats tore through Atlantic waters, showing off their power, precision and speed. Emirates Team New Zealand even lost one of its sailors.
The Kiwis raced at 26 mph to win the inaugural speed event for these yachts. That showed why the monohull model was left behind after light wind led to Saturday's sputtering beginning to the World Series event.
Alinghi is of the competition after losing the Auld Mug in a one-off showdown with Oracle Racing in February 2010. Ernesto Bertarelli, owner of the Swiss syndicate, has made no moves to rejoin a competition he felt was taken from him.
In Sunday's fleet race, Emirates Team New Zealand was second, ahead of Oracle Racing No. 4, with China Team fourth. Team Korea edged China Team for second in the speed race.
"There are still a lot of things to improve but the basic, fundamental things are working," Oracle Racing No. 5 skipper Russell Coutts said.
A poor opening day Saturday underlined Alinghi's absence.
"I'm not sure of the relationship between Oracle and Alinghi, but I think it could only be good for the event to have Alinghi here," Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker said.
The only relationship between Alinghi and Oracle Racing involves the sailors who migrated to the Americans after Alinghi disbanded following its on-the-water defeat, which came after a near three-year legal fight that forced the best-of-three series in Valencia, Spain.
"Alinghi would have been good competitors in this format but it's not necessarily a bad thing they aren't here — as a sport we need to have more teams capable of winning," Coutts said. "I think the top sailors in this format are here. Is (Bertarelli) on the list of the top-100 helmsmen in the world? Probably not."
Former Alinghi wingman Murray Jones, who joined Oracle Racing after winning 2003 and '07 Cups with Alinghi, called his former team's absence "a real shame."
"I wouldn't write him off but with Ernesto he would only want to do it if he thinks he has a chance of winning," Jones said.
A return for this edition seems unlikely, even with the match race for the Auld Mug not taking place until 2013 in San Francisco. Sunday's racing — when Kiwi bowman Winston MacFarlane was sent flying from his boat around a marker, and Oracle Racing No. 4 and Energy Team nearly collided — showed plenty of spectacle and rivalry from boats where the simplest mistake can mean a capsize.
Bertarelli did not rule out a return after Valencia when the Swiss biotech magnate took the helm in the first race and subsequently made an error in the start, leading to the lopsided loss.
"I'm surprised he took the decision to take the helm of his boat. Sometimes it's not always clear, sometimes the emotional side gets in the way of the making the right decision," said Coutts, a teammate of Bertarelli's with Alinghi's 2003 winning team. "I mean, I wouldn't just jump on a bike and race the Tour de France because I think I could."
Loick Peyron, who defended Bertarelli's move to helm as "logical," likes these boats since they will keep sailors and owners separate — suggesting if one could jump aboard it wouldn't be Oracle Racing owner Larry Ellison.
"This format makes it harder for the owners, the financiers to take charge of the boat and that's a good thing. There should be a buffer between the two worlds," the Energy Team skipper said. "Still, the only tycoon able to take the helm of a boat like this would be Ernesto."
Like most teams taking part in the 34th edition of this event, the Spanish outfit Green Comm Racing would be glad to have Bertarelli.
"He's always welcome here, he's welcome as a competitor or to come sail on my boat with me," team manager Luca Devoti said. "What happened was a dark page in the cup, so we need to close the books on that and move forward now."