Alinghi takes commanding lead

Alinghi (left) suffered a broken mast ahead of the semi-finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup.

Switzerland's Alinghi team has taken a 3-0 lead over America's Oracle in the best-of-seven semi-final of the Louis Vuitton Cup .

This content was published on December 12, 2002 minutes

Alinghi finished 46 seconds ahead of its rival on the waters of Hauraki Gulf to maintain its challenge for the America's Cup.

The Swiss boat won Wednesday's race by 29 seconds and Tuesday's opening duel by one minute and 11 seconds.

Alinghi is one of four remaining teams in the challengers' competition. Up against the Oracle syndicate, led by American software billionaire Larry Ellison, Alinghi is facing its toughest challenge to date.

Oracle crushed the other US syndicate, Oneworld, 4-0 in the quarter-finals.

The semi-final against the team skippered by New Zealander Chris Dickson has been billed as the final, with the winner likely to earn a strong psychological edge should both teams meet up again.

Serious threat

The Swiss syndicate has taken the threat seriously, even if its principal, Ernesto Bertarelli, said the team has already reached all the goals it set itself before the start of the competition.

With the competition now entering its closing stages, Swiss supporters are now making the trek to New Zealand to cheer on the team.

Up to 1,000 yachting fans are expected to follow the regattas in Auckland.

"It's my passion for sport, my pride of being Swiss and because I wanted to discover another country that I decided to come to New Zealand," said Jean-Claude Bobs from Vevey in canton Vaud.

Swiss tour operators are fretting, though, despite visitors like Jean-Claude Bobs. The Swiss have failed so far to show much enthusiasm when it comes to heading to New Zealand.

"We have had fewer bookings than we expected," said Stephan Desenger, who works for the Swiss travel agency, Fert Voyage.

"We were counting on getting 3,000 people here for the races, but we have had to lower our estimates."

Unhappy tour operators

Tour operators, who are now hoping at least 1,000 people will make the trip, say two things are holding the Swiss back: long-distance travel - 32 hours flying time - and the overall cost.

French-speakers have also been more enthusiastic than German-speakers.

"The Swiss are really interested in this competition," Desenger told swissinfo.

"If the Cup was taking place on the Mediterranean or on the Atlantic coast, I'm sure a lot more people would have made the trip."

Those who have made the trek around the world seem satisfied though, with front row view of all the sailing action.

The Class America yachts duel less than 200 metres away from the spectator boats that follow the races.

"Its fabulous, a moment of intense and unique emotions," said Myriam, who travelled from Geneva to Auckland. "You forget about the time you spent on the plane."

swissinfo, Francis Egger in Auckland

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