The participation of Emirates Team New Zealand was confirmed yesterday with the decision to fly NZL-81 from Auckland to Valencia

 Emirates Team New Zealand will race in the Valencia Louis Vuitton Acts 2 and 3 of the 32nd America’s Cup. The participation of the team was confirmed yesterday with the decision to fly NZL-81 from Auckland to Valencia, Spain to replace NZL-82, which suffered severe structural damage after Act 1 in Marseille. See Matt Sheahan’s news story here. 

After a strong third place performance in the opening act of the 32nd America’s Cup in Marseille early in September, Emirates Team New Zealand suffered a similar fate to Team Alinghi and the BMW Oracle Racing team, when it was blown over by a violent storm in Marseille. All three boats suffered significant damage, but while the other two teams each have a second race yacht in Spain, Emirates Team New Zealand’s second boat was 26 000 miles away, in Auckland, New Zealand.

“After the storm in Marseille, we were all very concerned that Emirates Team New Zealand might not be able to race here in Valencia,” said Michel Bonnefous, the CEO of AC Management. “All along, we’ve said that we would do whatever we could to help them, and we are extremely pleased to hear that NZL-81 will be on the starting line for the first race in Valencia. With Emirates Team New Zealand ready to race, and the two additional Italian teams making a total of eight, we expect the Valencia Louis Vuitton Acts to be even more exciting than Marseille.”

Following a week of meeting and overcoming logistical hurdles, Emirates Team New Zealand confirmed that NZL-81 was loaded into a British-built Short Belfast turbo-prop cargo aircraft operated by Heavy Lift Cargo Airlines late on Monday night in Auckland, New Zealand. The aircraft was scheduled to take off at 05:20 on Tuesday morning in Auckland.

“At times it looked like the team would not be able to compete in Acts 2 and 3 of America’s Cup 2007,” said Grant Dalton, the Managing Director o f Emirates Team New Zealand. “Without the assistance of America’s Cup Management (ACM) this would have been the case. Our team is fortunate to have the support and confidence of people, organisations and sponsors willing to assist when needed.”

But arranging the flight was just the first of several issues that had to be resolved according to Dalton.

“Due to the yacht’s size, we anticipated that it would be difficult to load into the aircraft. It’s an extremely tight fit – there was only a 20mm margin on top and 100 mm in length – and the loading operation took four and a half hours,” Dalton explained. “Our engineers did computer modelling based on NZL-81’s exact dimensions and those of the aircraft’s cargo hold. They were always confident of success, but I was on edge until they actually closed and locked the aircraft’s doors.”

Ten Short Belfast aircraft were built for the Royal Air Force in the 1960s and most were retired in the late 1970s. Heavy Lift Airlines have maintained several for specific cargo missions. NZL-81 is expected to arrive in Valencia late on Friday, after five fuel stops in Darwin, Singapore, Colombo, Dubai and Malta.

Grant Dalton said shore crew had worked long hours during the week in anticipation of the decision to fly. The yacht has been painted in its new livery but is not yet race ready. The shore crew will have to fit the keel, install electrical, electronic and hydraulic systems, winches and other deck hardware before the boat can sail. The team will fly boatbuilders and specialists to Valencia tomorrow to meet the aircraft and ensure the yacht is race ready on schedule. Dalton says the shore team estimates that five days will be needed in Valencia to get the yacht ready to sail. NZL-81 is expected to be sailing on October 1, four days before the regatta starts.

Each of the six teams that raced in Marseille will compete in Acts 2 and 3. Team Alinghi, BMW Oracle Racing, Emirates Team New Zealand , LE DEFI, K-Challenge and Team Shosholoza will be joined in Valencia by two more official challengers for the 32nd America’s Cup; the Luna Rossa Challenge, and 39, both from Italy.

Racing is scheduled to begin with Act 2, a match racing series, on the 5 October, and will continue with Act 3, a fleet racing regatta, beginning on the 14 October.