"Port America's Cup is like a city within a city;" David Glenn reports from Valencia 17/5/06

 Pick up the latest street map of Valencia and the chances are it will already be out of date. Spain’s third largest city, and the Mediterranean’s fourth biggest port, is currently undergoing super-metamorphosis as a Euros 500 million spending spree turns a once dowdy waterfront into Port America’s Cup. With the Cup match proper barely a year away the work rate to get this city sharpened up has had to move into another gear. Blink and the skyline changes.

It’s still advisable, however, to avert your gaze as you ride into town from the airport because the back end of this urban sprawl is not a pretty sight. One wonders just what the increasing number of high powered guests jetting in from slicker cities must be thinking as they skirt the rough side of town.

But those ubiquitous brown motorway tourist signs, counting you down kilometre by kilometre to the America’s Cup’s new and in some ways unlikely venue, are an obvious clue that there’s something very big indeed happening down on the waterfront.

Port America’s Cup is like a city within a city. It’s a sort of instant, bolt-on Riviera. It’s got its own road system, transport network, imported palm trees, shopping complexes, restaurants, a museum, sponsors’ village, public park (with an maze in the shape of the America’s Cup) and a 300-seater media centre feeding countless publications and 17 TV rights holders.

There are three brand new marinas, one for superyachts over 30m, and two more for 700 smaller visiting yachts. If you’re planning a visit by boat it’s advisable to book now to avoid disappointment according to Jean-Pierre Maffe who bears the rather complex title of Superyacht & External Marinas Project Director. According to Jean-Pierre, www.marina@americascup.com although a bit short on hard information is still the best way to get in touch.

The newly opened David Chipperfield-designed, four storey, 10,000m2 marine pavilion and Foredeck Club is extraordinary. It’s a cool, minimalist-styled entertainment centre, a vast, multi-layered viewing platform, which has recently emerged from the rubble on the banks of a new 7m deep canal. This waterway has been punched through the adjacent beach to segregate Cup activity from the commercial harbour and to reduce access time from Port America’s Cup to the race course to just 10 minutes. While you are being seriously wined and dined in the Foredeck Club, the pavilion provides panoramic views of the city on one side and the race course on the other.

But most extraordinary of all are the 12 team bases themselves. Walking past BMW Oracle’s towering glass edifice you would be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled across the carmaker’s Spanish HQ. Luna Rossa’s base glows magnificently at night like a giant Chinese lantern, its vast ‘walls’ made from sails discarded after the team’s last campaign in Auckland. Apart from being totally self-sufficient boat yards most come complete with VIP entertainment suites, interactive displays and, of course, expensive branded retail outlets.

The openness and willingness to embrace and involve the public, first seen in Auckland in 2003, is very much in evidence here. More than 50,000 spectators filed through the (free) turnstiles on the final Sunday of Act 10’s match racing, which brings it to 1.2 million as the number of visitors to this Cup to date. Not a bad achievement, particularly for Valencia whose maritime heritage is virtually non-existent and whose population, unlike that of Auckland, is not at all America’s Cup savvy.

It’s often been said that the best way to watch a cup match is sitting ashore in the media centre in front of walls of screens showing a mixture of live footage and Animation Research Ltd’s amazing virtual racing.

But when we were invited out on one of Alinghi’s specially equipped VIP spectator catamarans we learn how the other half live. Champagne on boarding, 11 flat screens to choose from, high-powered binoculars on hand and an in-depth commentary in three languages provide us with all we need.

After a lavish lunch below with picture window views of the course, we get surprisingly close to the start sequences for the final two flights of Act 10. Among a fascinating string of races we witness BMW Oracle dispatch Luna Rossa and Emirates Team New Zealand put away our hosts Alinghi. I can tell you it was considerably more enthralling than the last time I watched an America’s Cup race in the flesh – the disastrous opening rounds of the match in 2003 between Alinghi and Team NZ in Auckland. And as an alternative to Wimbledon, Ascot or Henley, taking the two-hour flight from Gatwick on jolly old Easyjet would, for anyone even mildly interesting yacht racing, make one heck of an office outing.