Written by Dr Hamish Ross
Ten years ago, at the height of the litigation over the 33rd America’s Cup, other America’s Cup teams were left at the docks, all desperately trying to survive without the oxygen of racing or at least the prospect of racing. It was extremely difficult for them having nothing to offer their sponsors.
With those issues in mind, Grant Dalton, the CEO of Emirates Team New Zealand, approached long-time America’s Cup supporter, Louis Vuitton to sponsor a new regatta in Auckland for existing and new America’s Cup teams. 2008 also marked the 25th anniversary of the Louis Vuitton Cup, first launched for the Newport Challenger Selection Series in 1983. Louis Vuitton agreed to sponsor 70% of the costs and soon Bruno Trouble was again on hand to help organize and promote what was to be called the “Louis Vuitton Pacific Series”. Very quickly, ten teams signed up including the current America’s Cup Defender and the litigious Challenger, BMW Oracle.
The entrants came from nine countries and included:
- Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL)
- Alinghi (SUI)
- BMW Oracle (USA)
- Damiani Italia Challenge (ITA)
- Pataguas K-Challenge (FRA)
- China team (CHA)
- Team Origin (GBR)
- Luna Rossa (ITA)
- Team Shosholoza (RSA)
- Greek Challenge (GRE)
The Regatta would be held on Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour, in matched America’s Cup Class Yachts. NZL 92 and NZL 84, built by Team New Zealand for the 32nd America’s Cup held in Valencia in 2007 and USA 87 and USA 98 shipped in from Valencia by BMW Oracle. The yachts were all modified, equalised as much as possible and made easier to sail given the vastly different experience levels between the competitors. Racing was held as close to shore as weather permitted, to allow the public to watch from shore. Based on this experience, similar courses are planned for the 36th America’s Cup in 2021.
Promoted as a “fun and friendly event” races were on a short windward-leeward course with Emirates Team New Zealand, as the Regatta organiser gaining direct entry into the Cup final, mirroring an America’s Cup format, but it participated in the qualifying rounds. The qualifying round was used to split the challengers into a Gold fleet and a Silver fleet, the winner of the Gold Fleet round getting direct entry into the challenger final and the other winners going to a third round, to determine the second challenger finalist.
Alinghi won the direct entry slot to the challenger final, leaving the rest of the surviving teams to battle out for the second final slot. Alinghi controversially did not start the final race of the Gold Fleet round against Emirates Team New Zealand, as it did not need any further points to progress to the final and would run the potential risk of losing points and their direct entry, should there be a collusion between the competitors. The third round saw Oracle BMW win the other challenger final slot, resulting in a grudge match against Alinghi which was won by Alinghi 2-0 in a weather reduced match to set up a replay of the 2007 America’s Cup match against Emirates Team New Zealand in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series Cup finals.
The Cup final was reduced to a best of five series due to poor weather. Alinghi won the first race but then lost the next three, so that Emirates Team New Zealand emerged the winner of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series Cup 3-1 appropriately on St Valentine’s Day, 14 February 2009, in a Regatta intended to “show the love” at a time of litigation and vitriol. Exactly one year later, the Cup would change hands on a cold winter’s night in Valencia, Spain.
Unfortunately, there was to be a further year of litigation before the 33rd Deed match in February 2010 and yet another three years before the 34th America’s Cup match in San Francisco. Despite the great success of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series, a further four year delay, a change to multihull yachts and other factors, all simply proved too much for most of the Pacific Series competitors to survive and only three of the ten would survive to compete in the 2013 - 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco; Emirates Team New Zealand; Luna Rossa and BMW Oracle.
The Regatta was a welcome break for sailing fans around the world, after surviving on nothing but an 18-month diet of America’s Cup legal reports.