America's Cup Is a Race Between Kiwis, Swiss

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Sailing powerhouse New Zealand battles the defending champion Switzerland in the final of the 32nd America's Cup, the oldest yachting race. The regatta has long been dominated by the United States, but this year's event is the first held off the coast of continental Europe. The American entry was knocked out in the semifinals.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's an update on one of the world's great sailing competitions - the America's Cup. It's a best-of-nine series and yesterday's race was, by some accounts, the most thrilling yet. The regatta is taking place in the Spanish port of Valencia. New Zealand, the challenger, beat the defending champions from Switzerland and now lead the series two to one.

Jerome Socolovsky was at yesterday's race.

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: This year's America's Cup is between two very different countries. Switzerland is, of course, landlocked. New Zealand is surrounded by water. The typically rowdy Swiss fan cheers his team with a cowbell.

(Soundbite of cowbells ringing)

SOCOLOVSKY: The Swiss team, like most America's Cup competitors, recruits its yachtsmen from a variety of nations, including New Zealand. But as his country's yacht sails by, Swiss banker Klaus Voltov(ph) gets sentimental.

Mr. KLAUS VOLTOV: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: Such a small country, such great sailors, he says. On the other shore, the Kiwis strip off their shirts and egg on their equally international team with a Maori war dance, the Haka. And when the New Zealand yacht takes the lead they go wild.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

SOCOLOVSKY: The Kiwi fans watching the regatta here on the dock are hoping their crew will bring the cup back home as they see it. Many have come all the way from New Zealand to watch the finals here in Valencia. But America's Cup races are notoriously unpredictable, and a slight miscalculation or a change of wind direction could dramatically alter the outcome of the race.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

SOCOLOVSKY: Yesterday's competition was such a race. The lead changed hands six times as the sleek yachts tacked and gybed for more than an hour and a half on choppy waters. The Kiwis blew a huge early lead on a turn and almost lost a man overboard. But they came back and crossed the finish line 25 seconds ahead of the Swiss.

Mr. SONNY SHAW(ph): Oh, oh, oh. What a race. I thought we'd blown it with that blunder.

SOCOLOVSKY: Sonny Shaw has a ruddy face and white hair and a nose swollen with sunburn blisters.

Mr. SHAW: Look at these Kiwis. They know how to celebrate a victory.

SOCOLOVSKY: Time was, when the America's Cup was dominated by America. The New York Yacht Club held the trophy for 132 years. But in 1983, the Australians captured the cup. They had attached small wings to the tip of the keel and their yacht flew down the course. Simon Daubney is a New Zealander on the Swiss boat.

Mr. SIMON DAUBNEY (Trimmer, Swiss America's Cup Team): In America's Cup it used to be that you can come up with something like a big development or a big breakthrough and that would be the winning of it. But now it's just, you know, what you've got to do is you've going to do like 100 things just slightly better and never let up, and a little bit of gain that you'll see in (unintelligible).

SOCOLOVSKY: Nowadays, nearly the entire boat is made of lightweight carbon fibers and the sails are as long as the wing of a Boeing 747. More than 40 million equations go into the design of a typical yacht. The design coordinator for this year's American entry is Ian Burns. He says hydrodynamic engineers worked on the yacht with automotive designers and computer specialists from team sponsors BMW and Oracle.

Mr. IAN BURNS (Design Coordinator, United States America's Cup Team): All these guys worked together to use massive supercomputers - 200, even 300 computers, all hooked together in a giant cluster.

SOCOLOVSKY: Still, the American entry was knocked out in the semi-finals by an Italian yacht.

For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Valencia.

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