Alinghi defends the America’s Cup for the first time in European waters with a 5-2 win over Team New Zealand. The two yachts were so evenly matched that it was the small things that made the difference in the series.

Remember that Team New Zealand led both Races 5 and 6 on the first downwind leg and then lost both. One for a torn spinnaker and one for a wind shift on the second windward leg. The score could have easily been different. However, it is the general feeling that Alinghi did have a slight edge in boat speed and this allowed them to survive in very difficult situations such as off the starting line today when there was just 40 meters between the two boats with Alinghi to windward. My guess is that this series has had more lead changes than any other America’s Cup in history.

Without going into the details of today’s race, suffice it to say that it was one of the best of all time. The wind was in, up to 18 knots, the waves were big and the race was spectacular. Three lead changes, a penalty for EmiratesTeam New Zealand at the second windward mark, and a 150 degree wind shift on the run to the finish. Then the closest finish in America’s Cup history, one second! Beating the previous closest finish, that of 1992 when Il Moro di Venezia beat America3 by three seconds. It could not have been more spectacular and in a way the finish race was a synthesis of the entire series.

Now what?

Probably a Cup in Valencia in two years. A short time frame is good for those teams who are continuing. Commercially, it seems to be the right thing to do, to keep the sponsors in front of their constituency. However, some tradition is going away. The Cup has always been a once every three or four year event like the Olympics and World Cup Football. There is something special about how Desafio Espanol has been accepted by Societe Nautique de Genève as Challenger of Record. The Spanish put on a great show here in 2007, exceeding many expectations by arriving in the semi-finals and even taking two races off the Kiwis, something Luna Rossa could not do in the Louis Vuitton Finals. For sure they will try to raise their game for the 33rd America’s Cup and being Challenger of Record is part of the complete package that this team is putting together. It also seems perfect to give the real home town team a role in this event.

The market for sailors, designers and managers is in full motion here in Valencia. A Cup in two years would be the shortest ever, so who can hit the ground running right now, with the right people, will certainly have an advantage. Those who have to go look for funding for six months will surely be behind the eight ball.

Will the boat change? The word is yes. It makes sense. With the performance envelope of these boats nearly reduced to one line, the only way the defender can get an edge is to change the class of boat. Of course this is not something Alinghi started thinking about yesterday. A few designs and probably even a few tank models have already passed under the bridge at Alinghi. Tomorrow they will reveal some of the rules to the rest of the group.

When, where, with what? This is the Cup. It is part of the game. The winner decides. It is what makes this thing a Holy Grail. On Thursday, Alinghi will release the Protocol that has been agreed with Desafio Espanol as Challenger of Record and in the following weeks more information will be released.

Big party at Alinghi tonight. Emirates Team New Zealand should hold their heads high. They did a fantastic job. The cruel reality in sport is that there is only one winner!

Thanks for following the America’s Cup with me this spring. In a few days, I will write my thoughts on Valencia and the upcoming announcements.

Paul