Alinghi have ended their first America's Cup losing streak by beating the challenging Kiwis in the fourth race on Wednesday.
Defending champion Alinghi won by 30 seconds and the best-of-nine series is now tied 2-2. The Kiwis lodged a protest after the race over the way Alinghi's mainsail was attached, but this was rejected by a jury on Thursday afternoon.
The victory means the race to win the Auld Mug, the oldest trophy in international sport, is guaranteed to be the closest since 1983, when Australia II came from behind on the final leg to take the America's Cup from the United States for the first time in its then 132-year history.
"We need to win five, that's all that matters," said Ernesto Bertarelli, the Swiss biotech billionaire bankrolling Alinghi, who was on the boat as a crew member.
The Swiss yacht lost the third race at the finish line on Tuesday in ever-changing weather conditions that made the course unpredictable. This time, Alinghi kept Emirates Team New Zealand close and dictated the race for a 30-second win.
"Even though we had a very hard day ... it was easier, not much easier but a bit easier to control this regatta," Bertarelli said.
The Swiss started off on the right for the first time in the series and never gave up the starboard advantage. The Kiwis attempted to engage the Swiss, but the SUI-100 yacht answered every move as the defending champions led around every marker.
"The winds have been very volatile and it's been a difficult race course – the previous two days we lost races while getting out of phase," said Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth. "We've started well throughout the regatta and sometimes it doesn't go your way. It's tough sailing and everyday we hope to win so it's a great day for us."
Team New Zealand helmsman Dean Barker came off the start on the left after gambling that wind conditions would prove favourable. But the Kiwis came out slightly behind with crashing waves adding that extra resistance to a soft but steady breeze.
Alinghi sailed high off the right to hold a slight advantage, with Butterworth winning the initial drag race by going around the first marker with a 20-second lead while the winds at the top wavered.
After a slow rounding at the second marker left Alinghi with a 34-second lead, helmsman Ed Baird stayed with Barker on the second upwind lap that was identical to the first – both teams sailing up to the left – except that the boats were separated by nearly one kilometre.
Barker tacked back to avoid getting pushed out again and cut the deficit to 25 seconds. With crew member Murray Jones up the mast hunting down wind puffs, Alinghi couldn't be caught.
"The boats are pretty even, I haven't figured out what [Alinghi's weaknesses] are," said Kiwi tactician Terry Hutchinson. "It's a matter of continuing to do the things we do well and taking it one race at a time. It's going to be tricky the next five races."
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The inaugural race was held off the Isle of Wight in 1851. America dominated the race right up until 1983 when Australia won the trophy.
In 1995 New Zealand became only the third country to win the competition, successfully defending their title in 2000.
The Swiss syndicate Alinghi sailed to victory against Black Magic in 2003 and became the first European team to win the Auld Mug.
The 2007 America's Cup off the coast of Spain started on June 23 and runs until July 7 at the latest.
Yachts: a construction class is based around a formula or set of restrictions that the boat's measurements must fit to be accepted. The America's Cup is the most famous competition involving construction class boats.
Racing: harbour or buoy races are conducted in protected waters, and are quite short, usually taking anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. The most famous such event is the America's Cup.
This kind of race is most commonly run over one or more laps of a triangular course marked by a number of buoys.
In the America's Cup, the course is specifically set out to test the balance between boat speed and match racing ability in a team. The course is up to 18.55 nautical miles (34.35 kilometres) in length and consists of up to three laps of a right-handed windward-leeward course between a windward (upwind) mark at the top of the course and a leeward (downwind) gate near the bottom of the course. The start and finish line are the same.
Speed: one (international) knot is equal to 1.852 kilometres per hour.
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