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Wind hampers start of World Series

CASCAIS, Portugal -- Light wind hampered the start of the America's Cup World Series for the high-tech catamarans.

Conditions in the Atlantic off the Portugal coast initially delayed sailing before organizers decided to abandon the inaugural speed trial event and stick to fleet races as the nine-day series got under way.

"Today was a bit of a disappointment in terms of sailing and the boats looking exciting," Emirates New Zealand skipper Dean Barker said. "It's not exactly on the edge."

Still, the Kiwis led Swedish challenger Artemis Racing by one point after three races, with defender Oracle Racing's pair of multihulls close behind.

The World Series is essentially training for the Louis Vuitton Cup, where boats will try to become the designated challenger in the America's Cup. Both cups will be raced in 2013 in San Francisco.

Wind has often hampered America's Cup racing in the past, but the new class of boats still got going in light wind. Their top speeds of 15 mph, however, were less than half of maximum.

Artemis Racing of Sweden won the opener. James Spithill's Oracle Racing No. 4 yacht took the next two after being disqualified from the opener for failing to perform a penalty.

"There are worse things than not to have enough wind," said French skipper Loick Peyron, who guided his Energy Team boat to seventh out of the nine teams from six countries. "It's true it wasn't dazzling and maybe not at the top of what it should be, but today is the worst we'll see and that's in these conditions. Imagine how it will be when it's good."

Oracle Racing's victory over Alinghi last year led to the introduction of the 44-foot long carbon-fibre hulls that stand 71 feet high and normally cut through the waters with precision and stealth.

Team Korea was fifth and China Team sixth. Aleph followed fellow French syndicate Energy Team in eighth ahead of Green Comm Racing of Spain.

While Saturday's opener may have lacked spark, for most teams it was just the start of a long road to 2013 when one challenger will emerge to face Oracle Racing for the Auld Mug.

The series, which will also go to the United Kingdom and San Diego this year, will eventually jump from the AC45 class to the AC72. That not only stretches the boats to 85 feet but puts them at the forefront of technology.

"Yes, the playing field is level here with these boats, for sure, but when we move to the 72s that's when the Cup will be better available to the bigger fish. Money will play a big role then," Green Comm Racing team manager Luca Devoti said. "This competition allows good sailors to get their fundraising in drive. Here you can finish last and you can still show your skill and have a chance at winning over more sponsors for the future."

Oracle Racing No. 5 boat skipper Russell Coutts said the one-design boats allowed teams to get a handle on the technology.

"Money helps, but if you look back you see the biggest budgets haven't always won the America's Cup. You need a certain amount of money and you have to use your money well," Coutts said. "Money is no guarantee you're going to win as America's Cup history demonstrated right up until our victory with Oracle."

Peyron expected the wind to return despite similar conditions expected on Sunday when the speed race will be held.

"If we are not able to make something of this then we should fold it in and turn to golf," Peyron said.