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Wind topples 3 Cup yachts

An early-morning storm with 65-mph wind gusts damaged three of the leading IACC yachts that were in Marseille, France, for the first in a series of regattas leading up to the 2007 America’s Cup.

Boats belonging to BMW Oracle Racing, Team Alinghi and Emirates Team New Zealand were knocked from their cradles in the Sept. 12 storm.

The syndicates scrambled to make repairs or alternate arrangements before the next event, beginning Oct. 5 in Valencia, Spain. BMW Oracle planned to race its second boat, USA-71, in Valencia.

“It is disappointing for the team, but everyone is working hard to fight back and do the best we can,” says BMW Oracle CEO Chris Dickson. While the team didn’t yet know the full extent of the damage, Dickson says he expects the repairs to USA 76 could take 2,000 to 3,000 hours.

“We’ve come to Valencia to go racing,” Dickson told the local media. “We’ll be on the starting line in two weeks’ time. We will move on.”

New Zealand’s NZL-82 was too damaged to repair in time for the next regatta, so the syndicate flew its NZL-81 boat to Spain. NZL-81 is identical to NZL-82. The feat required careful logistical planning. NZL-81 was loaded into an aircraft owned by Heavy Lift Cargo Airline, with very little clearance in height and on the sides. The aircraft had to stop five times en route to refuel.

Officials from Team Alinghi, the Swiss syndicate and current Cup holder, planned to repair SUI-64 in time for racing.

Michel Marie, Alinghi shore crew manager, says the prognosis is good for the Alinghi boat. Michel says SUI-64 was damaged in various locations throughout the hull, including one section that measured about 8 meters by a half-meter. The syndicate flew in experts from around the world to assist with the extra work required to get SUI-64 back on the water.

“At the moment our preferred option is to look at repairing SUI-64 over the next couple of weeks,” said Grant Simmer, co-managing director of Alinghi, in early September. “The other boat hasn’t sailed since Auckland … and there are several issues relating to using that boat. … But one way or another we’ll be there on the starting line in Valencia.”

In addition to the six teams that raced in Marseille, Italian syndicates Luna Rossa Challenge, and +39 were to join the fleet in Valencia.