Chris Dickson was at the helm of USA 98 during maiden voyage today 16/1/07

 Chris Dickson was at the helm USA 98 – BMW Oracle Racing’s new race yacht for the 32nd America’s Cup – which was sailed for the first time today on the Hauraki Gulf in Auckland.

After the yacht’s maiden voyage Dickson BMW Oracle Racing CEO and skipper commented: “In a four-year campaign, it is only twice that the team has the thrill of taking a new yacht on its shakedown sail. Certainly this day is a milestone in our programme as we enter race mode and the final stretch to the Louis Vuitton Cup?

“?The report card comes when we sail with the boat fully-loaded in race mode but for sailing right out of the box, 98 feels pretty special.”

Both USA 87 (the team’s first 2007-generation America’s Cup Class yacht) and USA 98 are from the drawing boads of leading yacht designers – Bruce Farr and Juan Kouyoumdjian. The boat was built by a 25-strong team led by boat construction managers Mark Turner, Tim Smyth and Mark Somerville. The carbon fibre composite hull of USA 98 was from a different mould than USA 87, which was also built at the team’s custom facility in Anacortes, USA.

Commenting on the design and construction of the new boat Dickson said: “USA 98 is the result of more than three years of R&D and the culmination of all we learned from our first new boat, USA 87, in the 2006 sailing season.

“This new boat represents the best thinking from our BMW Oracle Racing design and sailing teams. We’ve managed to incorporate all of the developments that we have realised in our technical and on-the-water programme with USA 71, USA 76, and USA 87. The next step is to let the sailing teamwork with USA 98 to get the most out of her on the racecourse. The time for testing is over – it is the Year of the Cup and time for racing.”

With now just 90 days to the start of the Louis Vuitton Cup the team plans to spend the rest of the week conducting sea trials where she’ll really be put through her paces. The intention is to leave New Zealand in February with the new boat in top racing form. Once in Valencia the team will continue tuning up against USA 87.