Groundhog Day

Out of court, and straight back into court, sounds familiar, right? Ernesto Bertarelli’s promise to get the America’s Cup show back on the water turned out to be about as reliable as England’s so-called ‘golden generation’ were on Wednesday night… No, sorry, that’s not a good metaphor; the over-paid, over-rated bling merchants are reliably awful.

The week started with another exchange of volleys in the press release/letter war. You may recall that when we left things just over a week ago the warring factions were primarily engaged in a skirmish over the date of the Cup match – July 2008 (as specified in the Golden Gate Yacht Club’s (GGYC) original Deed of Gift Challenge), October 2008 (the date GGYC say they subsequently agreed to with Societe Nautique de Geneve (SNG) last November) and July 2009 (the date that SNG are claiming for the match).

After that story was posted, things really livened up, with a flurry of letters, claims and counter-claims. There might have been a time when I’d have sifted through these, and summarized each missive with a link… though I prefer to think not. Anyway, now I have a life. If you don’t, you can find them all in the usual places – the GGYC and Alinghi websites.

When you stick it on high heat for a while, all these words boil down to the usual: both sides blame each other for the current impasse, and neither will shift from their position.

They eventually got the opportunity to tell each other this in person, with a meeting on Wednesday 26th March in Geneva. The outcome was soooo predictable… Alinghi’s press release was entitled - SNG frustrated with meeting outcome. Oh really? I never would have guessed. GGYC were more guarded, but it made no difference. Alinghi followed up in short order with an announcement that they were returning to Justice Cahn and the New York State Supreme court for a decision on the date of the Deed of Gift Match. Alinghi posted their letter to Justice Cahn for us all to read, and GGYC followed up with their own legal response.

Again, cutting to the chase, Alinghi’s case is all about the idea that the 10-month notice period stipulated in the Deed of Gift is suspended (or 'tolled' as Alinghi call it) by the legal action – as they claim GGYC have already agreed to, and GGYC vehemently deny (this is a good BYM News interview with Tom Ehman). I could harp on about this legal stuff, but frankly, Cory Friedman will do a better job on Scuttlebutt when he posts his latest missive on the opposing arguments on Monday 31st March…

Meanwhile, the good Justice (who would be well on the way to winning ISAF’s World Sailor of the Year if it wasn’t for the fact that our august governing body have given every appearance of siding with Alinghi) hasn’t wasted any time, and he’s set a date for the court hearing of Wednesday April 2nd - after which, we can all tune our sets to stand-by again (or switch them off, if you’re carbon neutrally inclined) until Justice Cahn pronounces.

Then what happens…?

My money has it that the court is more likely to set a date of July 2008 than July 2009 and if that happens SNG/Alinghi are in a whole world of hurt. Expect the toys to come hurtling out of the pram and Alinghi to either return the whole thing to the court with an appeal, or less likely but more entertainingly, try something like the forfeit/rechallenge strategy I outlined in the last post.

The October 2008 date is the more interesting, as Alinghi could make this one – whatever they may claim. They have time to build a boat even if they start now, never mind if, as Tom Ehman points out in the above interview and one of the GGYC’s many press releases of the last week, they started back in December ’07 (they have signed up Alain Gautier for multi-hull training).

So this one could go either way, SNG can still play the venue card – they get to decide whether the race is in 5 knots off the Island of Capri, or 25 knots of the island of Oahu (the word on the Valencian street is that the Oracle camp is fully packed and containerised and ready to go anywhere in the world). Not to mention that SNG/Alinghi can choose the rules (How about... no boat shall be penalized for a collision... take that one and ram it into your lightweight multi-hull, Larry). Alinghi might just decide that they really aren’t getting any joy from the court, and return to what they’ve demonstrated they are good at – winning tough yacht races. Or they might not.

And if it’s July 2009, I don’t think we’ll be hearing much from Alinghi except for the crowing. And although GGYC might make a fuss about being hard done by, if the rules and venue are something they can live with, I suspect they will also accept the date. They still have a headstart, and there’s nothing to stop them maintaining it by building a second multi-hull, based on the lessons they learn from the first. In fact, given that Alinghi’s Protocol limitations on two-boat testing won’t be applying to this regatta, they could conceivably crank up a full two boat programme between now and then, and wouldn’t that be fun to be a part of…

The other possibility is that Alinghi swaps horses mid-race and offers a multi-challenge event for 2011 (or even 2009) under the compromise Protocol (proposed by GGYC and backed by the other challengers) that they, SNG/Alinghi, had previously turned down last autumn. This one would really put the cat amongst the pigeons back at Oracle Towers.

Whatever their motives when they issued their Deed of Gift challenge back in July last year, I doubt that Oracle believed that Alinghi would so comprehensively sail themselves downwind into a narrow creek with a square rigger. But they have, and right now, Oracle have a hand on the prize. They are one court judgement away from going into a Cup match with a serious jump on their opponents. Would you give that up if you had the opportunity – even if, when you started out, you just wanted a fairer deal for the Challengers in a multi-team event? I didn’t think so… but that call ain't gonna make you look good.

And finally, there’s a peach of an article by Vincenzo Onorato on the Mascalzone Latino website, where Vincenzo gives it to Alinghi with both barrels, loaded with number ten shot (you don’t want to break the glass - I’ve been reading No Country for Old Men).

The story finishes by looking forward to a day where the 33rd Match is all over, and Oracle have won – clearly a glass-half-full kind of guy - but the ideas are rock solid:

If possible, get Louis Vuitton back on board – they define the event, as much as the name America’s Cup, and their presence will reassure other sponsors.

Use the old boats and limit new hull builds to one – there’s a need to cut costs at a time when all the teams are struggling for sponsors and cash. (And personally, I doubt the credit crunch/US recession is going to improve matters for anyone anytime soon.)

Race as soon as possible – like, you know, 2009.

You can’t argue with any of that – roll on the day…

And don’t worry, Vincenzo, we haven’t forgotten why this all kicked off in the first place.

Mark Chisnell ©