Smoke on San Francisco water for America's Cup
For decades, an almost mystical allure has attracted buccaneering billionaires, boat designers and leading sailors eager to contest one of the world's most prestigious races.
But when the battle for the 34th America's Cup kicks off in San Francisco next week, just four boats will be competing, amid a storm of concerns about safety, cost and spying in what has traditionally been seen as the most august of gentlemans' sports.
Three teams will race largely untested, state-of-the-art wing-sailed 72ft catamarans during the summer to decide who should challenge 2010 winner Oracle Racing for the trophy in September.
Normally, the 162-year-old event is held too far out to sea for onshore spectators to see much, but this year's compact course puts the action inside the Golden Gate Bridge, between Alcatraz and the waterfront of Fishermans' Wharf, with the promise of strong winds and challenging conditions.
Hopes were high for millions of visitors to the city and an increased television audience. "It's one of the best - if not the best - sailing amphitheatres in the world. Not only is it beautiful, it is reliably windy," Tom Ehman, the America's Cup authority spokesman, told Reuters.
But while a field of about 10 could have been expected for a cup series, the high costs involved - about