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Alinghi edges Team NZ in first of best-of-5 final

AMERICA'S Cup-holder Alinghi beat Team New Zealand by 22 seconds yesterday to take a 1-0 lead in the five-race final of the Pacific Series sailing regatta.

High winds then prevented further racing, forcing organizers to trim the finals series from seven to five races to ensure it concludes on schedule in Auckland today.

The first race took place in winds of 17 to 25 knots, gusting to 30 knots, though conditions deteriorated steadily through the day. More moderate conditions are forecast for today.

Team New Zealand seemed to gain the upper hand in the pre-start yesterday, holding Alinghi above the line before breaking away to start at speed.

New Zealand sought the left-hand side of the course, allowing Alinghi to take the right, but an anticipated left-hand wind shift didn't occur and the Swiss yacht was able to edge ahead.

Alinghi's American helmsman Ed Baird said Team New Zealand had given his team, skippered by New Zealander Brad Butterworth, "a hole to slip into."

"Once we did sneak out into a bit of an advantage up the first beat, Brad and the team at the back of the boat just paid attention to what was happening," Baird said. "We tried to close the door and not leave any opportunity for the other guys."

Alinghi led around the first mark and retained its lead for the remainder of the race, while Team New Zealand was further hampered by a problem with a spinnaker halyard on the second leg.

The teams had raced twice previously in finals before yesterday's meeting. Alinghi beat Team New Zealand 5-0 in a best-of-nine series to win the America's Cup off Auckland in 2003 and won again, 5-2, when it defended the Cup off Valencia in 2007.

New Zealand tactician Ray Davies said the reduction of the series to five races, leaving Alinghi only two races to win to take the overall title, did not alter the equation for his team.

"You still have to win the last race. If you win the last race, you win the regatta," he said. "It would have been nice to go to seven races just because there's more racing, you've got everyone here and it's a good spectacle."


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