World's biggest helicopter airlifts yacht over Alps

7th August 2009, Comments 0 comments

The new yacht of America's Cup defender Alinghi is to be airlifted out of Switzerland by the world's largest helicopter.

Le Bouveret – Yachting syndicate Alinghi, defender of the America's Cup, began a spectacular airlift of its giant yacht from landlocked Switzerland over the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea on Friday, dangling beneath the world's biggest helicopter.

After some two weeks of sailing on Lake Geneva, where it was built, the new 90 foot high tech catamaran is being flown about 300 kilometres (186 miles) to the Italian port of Genoa for its first sea trials.

Watched by a flotilla of boats under bright skies, Alinghi 5 was hauled off Lake Geneva here by a MI-26 heavy lift helicopter, flown in specially from Russia, on the end of long cables.

The mast was airlifted by another helicopter.

Alinghi 5 headed for the 2,469 metre (8,100 foot) Great St Bernard peak on the Swiss-Italian border, before a refuelling stop at Biella in northern Italy, team members said.

It was then due to hop over a final mountain ridge before being deposited at the Italian Yacht Club's base on the Mediterranean after the unprecedented four hour journey.

Crowds of onlookers lined the shore around the small leisure port of Le Bouveret in southwestern Switzerland, watching in awe as the helicopter hovered for several minutes over the boat while the cables were attached.

Amid nervous whispers of "lift it, lift it," the yacht rose into the sky and lumbered steadily southwards into the Alps, passing Europe's highest mountain, Mont Blanc.

Alinghi, with its home port in Geneva, was the first team from a landlocked country to take part in sport's oldest trophy in 2000, when it won the America's Cup at its first attempt.

The two-times winners announced this week that their duel against US challengers Oracle for the 33rd America's Cup should take place in the United Arab Emirates at Ras al-Khaimah next February.

After a lengthy legal battle to force acceptance of its challenge, Oracle, bankrolled by US billionaire Larry Ellison, has contested the choice of venue.

But it was not clear what action the San Francisco-based team would take.

The Americans have been testing a similarly huge trimaran off the US West Coast for several months, setting the stage for an equally spectacular sailing battle next year.

The huge width of biotech billionaire owner Ernesto Bertarelli's latest carbon fibre twin hull yacht, which cannot be dismantled, prompted the spectacular mode of transport.

The cost of the boat and its transport has not been revealed. But Bertarelli was watching the lift closely and team members were following their craft by car.

AFP / Expatica

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