Writing the Fulcrum Files

I was in New Zealand to do interviews for the publication of The Wrecking Crew and one question kept coming up – since you've sailed in it, why don’t you write a novel about the America’s Cup? I tried to explain that while the Kiwis had a minor obsession with the world’s premier sailboat race, most of the rest of the world didn’t even realise that they didn’t care.

Larry Ellison, Russell Coutts and the other characters that inhabit the contemporary Cup-world are interesting enough, but they aren’t quite in the same league as the likes of T.O.M. Sopwith and Harold Vanderbilt. In the midst of the Great Depression and the rise to power of Hitler; Sopwith and Vanderbilt still managed to find the time and money to build and race the extraordinary J Class yachts. Not to mention changing the course of history...

Hold on.

It suddenly occurred to me... what about a story set in the milieu of that most dramatic, romantic and tumultuous era, the 1930s? I didn’t begin it for quite a while as I was already half-way into another book, and although I knew the core historical story that I wanted to tell, it took a long time to figure out how I wanted to tell it.

Eventually, I decided to make the book’s principal characters fictional, and set them amongst a handful of real – but peripheral – people, whose actions did not have to be much altered or invented to make my historical fiction mesh with reality. And I decided to make it a thriller – believe it or not, The Fulcrum Files started out closer to the romance genre.

First and foremost of the real characters is the aforementioned Sir Thomas Sopwith, as famous for the Sopwith Camel and Hurricane fighters as for his two challenges for the America’s Cup. Chairman of the Hawker Siddeley Aircraft Company – a vast military aviation and engineering conglomerate - Sopwith was one of a handful of people that could afford the tens of thousands of pounds required to mount a Cup Challenge in the 1930s.

In those days, the America’s Cup was not so much a yacht race (it still isn’t) as a financial and technological battle of will between the elite of British and American society. The Cup was first won by the yacht America in 1851, after a race around the Isle of Wight. By 1935, fifteen successive ‘Challengers’ (mostly British, but the Canadians had also tried) had failed to wrest the Cup back from the New York Yacht Club’s nominated ‘Defender’, in the one-on-one ‘match race’ format used.

It was Sir Thomas Sopwith’s Endeavour that was defeated in 1934 in a highly controversial match against Harold S. Vanderbilt’s Rainbow (‘Britannia rules the waves, but America waives the rules,’ had thundered one paper, and an American one at that). Sir Thomas was not settling for that result and by early-1936 - when the story of The Fulcrum Files opens - he already has a new boat in construction in Gosport, England.

During this time, Sopwith made some momentous decisions. I’m not going to tell you what they were here - you’ll have to read the book – but suffice to say that they were more than enough to hang a thriller on.

Spoiler Alert...

While I’m not going to spoil the main plot of The Fulcrum Files for you, I know that part of my fascination with historical fiction is working out what’s real and what’s made up – so I thought I’d give you a couple of teaser points from all the research that I did to write the book. But even these could spoil your enjoyment of the story if you haven’t read it – you have been warned.

The close association of the aero-industry to the world of yachting in the Solent area during the 1930s was genuine. Apart from Sopwith; Supermarine – builders of the Spitfire – had their offices and plant in Woolston on the Itchen in Southampton, and management kept a boat anchored on the river. The plane was tested at nearby Eastleigh airport.

Richard Fairey also built aeroplanes and owned and raced a J-class yacht. He did tentatively challenge for the America’s Cup in the K Class, but the New York Yacht Club turned him down. He had an aircraft factory in Hamble and post-war it did much to raise the popularity of sailing as a mass participation sport thanks to the Firefly dinghy, which is still around today.

Sopwith might well have won the Cup in 1934 if it wasn’t for a strike by many of his professional crew. They wanted a little more pay to make up for the late date of the Cup match, which meant that they would miss the beginning of the fishing season, losing their places on the boats. Sopwith refused to negotiate and took a largely amateur crew in their place – which many observers at the time believed to have made the difference in the 1934 Cup match. 

There was also a female MI5 agent who worked undercover amongst the right-leaning elements of the British establishment. Joan Miller was partly responsible for the rounding up of a spy ring centred on the Russian Tea Rooms in Kensington. Her boss was Maxwell Knight, head of the anti-political subversion unit and possibly Ian Fleming’s inspiration for ‘M’.

I hadn’t realised before I started The Fulcrum Files quite how much research was involved in historical fiction – everything has to be checked, nothing can be taken for granted. The research, like the writing, took a long time – one of these days I’m going to try and get a research/reading list together, but just the idea of typing it all out makes me feel tired.

If you are interested in the background events that provided the starting point for this book, then you might like to read Pure Luck, Alam Bramson’s biography of TOM Sopwith, and Joan Millers autobiography, One Girl’s War. As for me, I think I’ve read enough history for a while, the next one will definitely be set in the present day, even if it’s not set in contemporary culture...

Mark Chisnell ©

Formats and Fouls

So, the America’s Cup has begun a new era in the stewardship of Larry Ellison, Russell Coutts and BMW Oracle. And the hope for those involved in professional sailboat racing is for a brave new world of media friendly sport – in which television will play an integral part.

For the dedicated fan, the cognoscenti, this may well mean wall-to-wall television coverage, every minute of every race, regardless of its importance or relevance. But personally, I think we need to look at making the majority of the racing we put on tv a little bit more special.

There’s lots that could be done to improve the coverage – Formula 1’s model of a statistical, onboard-audio-and-camera-fest is the obvious one, but I think we need to look at something more fundamental first.

The thought comes out of the latest Louis Vuitton Trophy regatta in Sardinia. The point was raised in a recent Scuttlebutt that there was just too much of it – that two weeks racing, with the days sometimes extending from 10 in the morning to late in the evening was just too much. I wouldn’t disagree, but I think that the more important conclusion is that too little of the racing was meaningful.  

The second biggest sporting event on the planet is underway in South Africa, FIFA’s World Cup. It starts with a group stage, where the 32 teams are split into groups of four – everyone plays everyone else, before the top two in each group go forward, and the bottom two go home. It’s generally reckoned that you need to win one and draw one of those first three games to proceed to the last sixteen – at which point the competition changes to a win-or-go-home format.

The consequence is that from the sixth or seventh day of a month long, once-every-four-years competition, spectators are seeing do-or-die games. And that’s what most spectators want - sport that counts. In contrast, how long was it before some must-win action developed in La Maddelena? It was well into the second week. 

Matters weren’t helped when Bertrand Pace and his Aleph team spectacularly crashed into Azzura, and suddenly they had to do all the racing planned for four boats with just two. Combine this with a venue where there was either too much wind, or too little until a late afternoon seabreeze - and it felt like nothing much ever happened until late in the day, both metaphorically and literally.

I suspect that the problem is giving the teams, the sailors, too much say in the proceedings. Ask the participants and they will, naturally, want to guarantee themselves as much sailing - and their sponsors as much coverage - as they can get. The result is formats with endless round robins and repecharges. But spectators want completely the opposite – lots of meaningful matches, where people go home if they aren’t good enough.

The idea of not asking the sailors about the format is probably a non-starter, when the event organiser for the Louis Vuitton Trophy is the WSTA (World Sailing Team Association) - owned and run by the teams. But if the LVT was managed by Formula 1 supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, I suspect we’d already be looking at a format without the full round robin. Perhaps splitting the fleet into smaller groups for round robins, or even going straight to head-to-head matches. It would cut down the amount of sailing they have to get through with a limited number of boats, and it would make each individual match much more meaningful and exciting.

The problem would be getting teams to turn up for a regatta with all the travel, salary and other costs, when they might get sent home after a couple of days. To do that, you need to be offering something of great value as a prize – and that means cash, big money...or prestige… say, the America’s Cup for instance.

So much for formats – next up is a more technical point, but one that’s worth exploring. I think it’s time to look at options for an off-the-water, video umpire. A recent test was run at the Korea Match Cup, a World Match Racing Tour event (disclosure of interest - I've been blogging for them). In this test, the on-the-water umpires raised a flag and requested a second opinion from a third umpire in the tv booth. He would then look at the replays, and give an opinion on a number of issues – mainly contact seen by the onboard cameras and perhaps missed by the on-the-water umps – and then radio his opinion back to the guys on the water. They could take it or leave it.

It’s a good start, and nice to see the Tour innovating, but for the really big events like the America’s Cup the technology exists to go much further. The latest position fixing equipment will place both ends of the boats and the marks to within millimetres, at very fast update rates. So why not use that to help decide overlaps, buoy room at mark roundings, alterations in course and so on? It’s potentially a lot more accurate than the current system which relies heavily on the umpires being in the right place all the time – and that right place can change very fast, and will only change faster when the boats get bigger and quicker as seems to be the plan.

It’s possible that off-the-water umpires using a virtual positioning system could be used for every call – but it might add even more drama to do what they’ve done in many other sports, and give the competitors the opportunity to call on the video umpire on just a couple of occasions per race. The initial penalty, or otherwise, could still be made from the on-water umpires, and then if one of the teams didn’t like the decision, they could use one of two or three challenges.

The difference between sailing and the other sports I’ve cited is that the game continues while the video umpire deliberates. But it often takes a while for on-the-water umpires to respond to a protest flag, and the sailors are quite capable of sailing on while the decision is made. Any penalty is rarely dealt with by the sailors before the next mark or the finish. One additional rule would help deal with this - disallowing references to the video umpire from any point after the two lengths circle of the final mark.

It might work, it might not, but I think it’s definitely worth trying...

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It’s over… finally. Just like that – you wait ages for an America’s Cup race, then two come along at once. All of a sudden, everything has changed. The Bertarelli era is over (although the dust has still to settle), and the Ellison era has begun. 

It’s time to move on, but quite what the transfer of power might entail is still more obscure than what might happen after the next UK election. The leaders of BMW Oracle are understandably focussed on enjoying their triumph, leaving the field open to rampant speculation on what the future might hold for the Cup - everything seems up for discussion, from how many hulls, down to the more traditional speculation about the venue.

For what it’s worth, my view is that great sport is about exceptional people doing extraordinary things under unbelievable pressure. I don’t want to take anything away from the guys that built and sailed those two incredible pieces of technology, but if the 33rd America’s Cup produced anything similar to those links, it was invisible to this casual television spectator. 

If Larry Ellison and his team want a commercial America’s Cup, they need to put the action up front and centre. And perhaps - if the views recently expressed by Ellison to the Wall Street Journal and to the ABC are anything to go by - that’s what we’re going to get. It seems that Ellison’s first choice is a commercial, accessible, all-action Cup in San Francisco Bay.

I’ve always believed that the most consistently dramatic part of match racing is the pre-start, so that’s where a spectator-orientated Cup should focus. A match in the Bay would provide the opportunity to switch to very short courses, perhaps just a single lap, one mile (or less) windward-leeward, with the ‘race’ winner decided on a best-of-three-sets basis. It would put all the emphasis and pressure on those five minutes in the box – and I think that if you went for a change like that, it wouldn’t much matter whether the boat had one hull or three, planed upwind, downwind, or not at all.

It would also reduce the importance of the design contest, and hence allow teams with a much wider spread of budgets to be competitive. In turn, that would create a more open competition, and traditionally the Defender hasn’t been good at allowing that to happen. But if anyone has the confidence (and the record to back it up) to believe he can lead a team to defend the Cup against all-comers on a level playing field, it’s Russell Coutts. And this is the game that Larry Ellison was talking about in his interview with ABC - mentioning team budgets of US$2-4 million, and a regatta determined primarily by racing skill. If it happens it would be the most dramatic change we’ve yet seen in the sport of professional sailing.

Throwing the cards in the air and starting again has been a popular pastime for event organisers of late – Knut Frostad’s mission to drag the Volvo Ocean Race kicking and screaming into the 21st century has been on-going and well-documented. In the last week we’ve passed another minor milestone in this process, with the announcement of the first two stop-over ports for the 2011-12 edition, with another one to come on March 3rd. 

The first leg will end once again in Cape Town, while the trans-Atlantic crossing that heralds the return to Europe will finish in Lisbon, the Portuguese capital. It's a long, long way south of previous trans-Atlantic finish ports, and will give the strategists plenty to think about, with a high probability that the Azores High will be parked on the great circle route. It might also hint at a North American port some way south of the previous Boston stop-over...

It’ll be interesting to see where Wednesday’s announcement takes us – straight up the English Channel to a Scandinavian finish? A stopover in Lorient is what the French reckon - and seems much more likely, with Groupama already having thrown their hat in the ring with an early race entry. I suspect that would leave the Irish a bit miffed after the great show they put on in 2009. The rest of the route will follow between now and the end of March. 

The other 300lb gorilla of the pro sailing circuit, the Vendee Globe, has less room to manoeuvre – changes to the fundamental principle of solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world are a little hard to imagine. But the attrition rate in the 2008-09 edition – only 11 of 30 starters finished – has also led to some serious soul searching. The result has been that IMOCA, the officiating body for the boats, has taken a long and serious look at the Open 60 rule

There are some significant changes, many of them focussed on safety. But the most dramatic is probably the decision to try and limit the power, and hence the speed potential of the boats. For the die-hards, this has long been the raison d’etre - Open 60 should mean what it says. But for good or bad, a failure rate of over 60% in that last Vendee Globe has brought a philosophical end (it could be argued that the practical end was reached some time ago) to the open era of the Open 60 class. 

The new rule limits the air draft (the height of the rig) to 29 metres for any boat measured after the 1st July 2009; while boats measured prior to this can’t exceed their original air draft (or 29m, whichever is the higher). And the rule goes on to specifically limit the maximum righting moment, for boats built after the same date, to 32 tons*meter – with a similar grandfathering condition.

If you need any evidence of the importance of righting moment to these offshore racers, cast your mind back to the last edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, when skipper, Ian Walker, and the crew of Green Dragon were vocal about the boat’s speed problems -  all laid at the door of a lighter bulb.

It was lighter because the all-up weight of the boat was fixed, and the design and build of Green Dragon left them with a heavier hull weight than the competition. To keep the boat under the overall limit the weight had to come from somewhere, and it came out of the bulb. In short: the more weight you put into the hull, the less you ended up with in the keel. 

This put an expensive premium on the time, care and attention lavished on the design and build of the hulls. It made it tough for teams that were either late to the game or short of cash (or both), leaving them building in a hurry, unable to research the lighter structures required to be competitive. This issue was addressed by the rule makers for the new version of the Volvo Open 70 rule. The keel weight is limited to 7,400 kgs, while the overall weight of the boat has been raised. 

If the rule makers got the sums right this will allow a lot more teams to build down-to-weight boats with the maximum amount of lead in the bulb. It should level the playing field by reducing the cash-for-splash design and build contest. Let's hope that - once the boats start getting built - this turns out to be the case. I’m all for level playing fields.

If we accept that righting moment is of such primary importance, then the Open 60 rule changes could throw up an interesting scenario for the next couple of seasons, because of the grandfather clause. Some of the old boats are significantly more powerful than the rule now allows – particularly the Juan Kouyoumdjian designed Pindar. Alex Thomson recently bought this boat to replace the Finot-Conq drawn Hugo Boss. By reputation, both boats have more power than the rule now allows, but it’s generally accepted that the Juan K design is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the class – the word on the street is that the boat has a third more righting moment than the new limit.

It would be too turkey-voting-for-Christmas-ish to expect the designers to tell anyone that they should buy an old boat, rather than take a new one from their drawing board. But Pascal Conq of Finot-Conq did say in a recent article, ‘Some of the 2008 boats are likely to be perfect for 2012, particularly as the new rules impose a limit on the power allowed.’

Thomson was quoted in a recent Seahorse story, ‘Then there are the new rules that limit power, so if you believe that you want righting moment, which I do, then it makes sense to buy the most powerful boat you can. The new boats have righting moment limited to 32 tonne-metres. Pindar has a bit more than that.’ 

Eventually, refinements in other areas of design will outweigh the advantage of raw power that Pindar, the old Hugo Boss and a few others now have – but in the meantime, it’s an opportunity to make some hay while the sun shines. Next winter’s Barcelona World Race will be the first test of this theory, and may well represent Thomson’s best chance yet of taking a major title. 

It seems I just got from the America’s Cup to the Barcelona World Race, via the Volvo Ocean Race and the Vendee Globe. There’s no shortage of stuff going on in the forest… ch-ch-ch-changes

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Not RAK nor Rudders

Just like buses, I haven’t written on the America’s Cup for 18 months, then a couple of blogs come along at once... But it’s not the appeal court’s decision to rule out RAK, or even rudders, that brings me back to the topic. Nope, you can get everything on that and more from the ever reliable Cory Friedman. Rather, I’m returning to the Cup because of the World Yacht Racing Forum held last week in Monaco.

I’ve read some rather sinister interpretations of what this event was all about, i.e. that it’s intended to rival ISAF as an organisational body for sailboat racing. Not yet. Right now, this is simply a conference for those involved in professional sailing; a place to network, air some dirty laundry, vent some spleen and generally discuss the issues affecting the sport.

Number one amongst those issues is the America’s Cup, while close behind is bringing some order to the chaotic multiplicity of events besetting sailing - Nick Fry, CEO of the Brawn GP F1 team, and keen amateur sailor, described it succinctly as, ‘a bugger’s muddle’.

If ISAF doesn’t get its butt into gear on this issue, the Forum may well become the place where the first plots are laid to rival ISAF’s administration of the professional sport – but that’s both another topic and, I suspect, a year or two down the track.

So, while the Forum’s organisers had scheduled a discussion on governance, it was the America’s Cup that had the headline grabbing final session – the Russell and Brad show - both Coutts and Butterworth made a presentation, and then joined a panel for a debate.

Most readers will know that the pair are old friends, and they made it quite clear to the gathering that nothing in the last two and a half years had changed that - by turning up more than a little worse for wear after a big session the previous night. The sub-text being: it ain’t our fault, we’re still mates.

The event has been reported elsewhere and I don’t intend to go back over that ground. Rather, I want to return to the questions asked by my previous blog; how do we stop the America’s Cup getting derailed like this again? And if we can’t, can we build the professional sport without it?

The Forum shed some light on the first part of this problem, at least if BMW Oracle win, with Russell Coutts mounting a defence of the ability of the Deed of Gift to manage the Cup; ‘…Mutual Consent, the two most beautiful words in the Deed of Gift.’

And in his latest article, Cory Friedman argued that there’s no need for any change, the Deed of Gift will do the job; 'New York’s courts have demonstrated that the Deed is just fine as it is…’

I beg to differ; while we may have got the right answers, it’s taken nearly three years to get a match that should have been held less than a year after the 32nd Cup. And in that time, the impact on people and businesses has been huge. Even those involved with the competing teams have had to live with a level of uncertainty that most of us would find unacceptable – no idea which school the kids are going to be in next week, never mind next year.

Formula 1 teetered on the brink of a bust-up and an incredibly damaging split last summer, but had the mechanisms in place to bang heads together, and the whole thing was settled in a matter of weeks. In comparison, the Deed of Gift and the New York courts don’t seem like much of a management system to me.

I still think we need to put a mechanism in place to prevent this kind of complete breakdown, on occasions where there is no mutual consent between the defender and challenger.

Russell Coutts did go on to allude to this issue in his presentation, saying that their legal advice was that changing the Deed of Gift to try and get a solution would be costly, time-consuming and not necessarily successful – any solution would have to reflect the desires of the original donors. It’s far from guaranteed that the court would look favourably on a proposal for, let’s say (my example) an independent dispute resolution body.

There is another way, which Coutts explained afterwards, and that’s using a commercial contract (with a massive financial penalty) that forces certain conditions for the defence of the 35th Cup on the winner of the 34th, when they enter the initial contest. Those conditions might include preservation of the same independent management system, along with clauses that roll the whole thing onto the 36th and 37th matches, and so on.

I’m no lawyer, but I suspect that there are still no guarantees that this won’t end up back in front of the New York judges. Nevertheless, it would go a long way as a holding action, until the court might be convinced to put something more permanent in place.

So far, so good, but what if Alinghi win? Brad Butterworth didn’t mention the issue, I didn’t get the chance to ask him about it afterwards, and his protestations that they would seek consent with the challengers on the future seemed a little feeble to me, at least in comparison to Russell’s. But then, I could be inaccurately pre-judging Alinghi on past history, or it could have been that Brad was struggling more with his hangover…

What of the hope that I expressed in the previous blog; that a united challenger group could hold out for long-term, structural change if they stuck together? Paul Cayard left the Forum to try and get agreement on a new set of rules for the 34th Cup, before either Alinghi or BMW Oracle win the 33rd, and self-interest makes them a good deal more entrenched in their views.

I wish him luck; personally, I didn’t detect a great deal of real, heart-felt mutual consent – Butterworth professed Alinghi’s preference for multihulls in the next Cup, while Coutts and BMW Oracle seem to want a return to monohulls. The rest of the potential challengers didn’t seem much more in agreement, but you can judge for yourself in these clips on the different issues; where and when, the type of boat, and a protocol for the 34th Match.

I suspect that the way that this will play out is that both Alinghi and BMW Oracle will pick a compliant Challenger of Record, and set up the next Cup in their own image. If BMW Oracle win, it may well include a solid plan for a long-term fix to stop this happening again, with some sort of independent professional management put in place. If Alinghi win, it probably won’t…

But I’ll finish by returning to my second question; if we can’t stop the America’s Cup periodically blowing up in our face, then can, or should, sailing try to build the professional sport without it?

The answer from the World Yacht Racing Forum is that many people already are – Mark Turner’s OC Group and Knut Frostad and his team at the Volvo Ocean Race are prime examples of talented, energetic people trying to deliver sailing as a commercially viable sport, with or without the Cup.

But can those events prosper in a world where someone can come along and drop a couple of hundred million dollars on grabbing some of the biggest names, and much of the precious media oxygen that sailing is afforded in the mainstream?

Knut Frostad made the point at the Forum that one successful sailing event will drag the rest up with it – and I think he’s right. But that event needs to be a sailboat race, not a legal soap opera.

And many other sports survive with no shortage of rich guys spending to win; they own plenty of football, gridiron or baseball teams. But those sports have a strong governing body in place to protect the commercial viability of the game.

So whatever happens, or doesn’t happen, in Valencia in February, I suspect that governance will still be a very hot topic at next year’s World Yacht Racing Forum – both for the America’s Cup, and the sport as a whole.

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It’s a Challenge... and an Opportunity

It’s been a while since I last ventured onto the topic of the America’s Cup – and with good reason. Another thirty instalments of Cory Friedman’s inestimable blog on the various court manoeuvrings have come and gone, with precious little in the way of clarity or progress in the New York court on which the action centres. 

Unsurprisingly, I’m still just as weary of the whole thing as I was back in April last year. So, don’t panic, I’m not about to start a tack by tack analysis of court performance, still happy to leave that to Mr Friedman. 

Instead, I wanted to point out that we may be about to turn a corner, from where we can see in the distance (and perhaps only briefly, before the confused fog of unconstrained legal warfare rolls back in) a glimmer of sunlight uplands.

The possibility of an America’s Cup match actually happening in February 2010 in Valencia looks to have tipped solidly this side of 50-50 – enough for BMW Oracle to start packing up in San Diego, anyway. 

So at the risk of pointing out the obvious; if Blinghi race in February then one of them is going to win. And when they do – regardless of any further legal recourse - a representative of another yacht club will need to be standing beside the winning team’s principals with a new challenge in their hip pocket. 

This is the traditional method for the new defender to control the next America’s Cup match: line up a yacht club who will challenge on previously agreed terms. The new defender is bound to accept the first challenge after their winning yacht crosses the finish line – so it’s important to have this organised in advance of the final race. 

It was a system which failed horribly for Alinghi when the New York court decided that their ‘hip pocket’ challenger – Club Nautico Español de Vela (CNEV) - wasn’t actually a yacht club, giving rise to the current situation.

Now, we all know that the delivery of this next hip pocket challenge will almost certainly not be the end of the 33rd America’s Cup. There remains plenty of potential for further legal challenges, for more appeals, affidavits, memos, depositions, oral argument, and so on, and on, and on.... 

But regardless of all that, the making of the next hip pocket challenge will be an important moment – because the nature of the document will tell us a lot about the intentions of the new defender for the 34th match. And it will be the first time in about two and a half years that anyone outside Blinghi (and the good judges of the New York court system) has had any say in the future of the event. 

So – what will be in those new challenge documents? What might be under negotiation right now, in smoke-free backrooms, for the future of the America’s Cup?

If Alinghi win, it seems unlikely that their plans for the 34th America’s Cup will vary greatly from their much maligned, original blueprint for the 33rd. The word on the street I was walking down the other day was that they’ve got a newly bona fide, bomb-proof CNEV lined up as the challenger again, and so we could be right back where we started - just two and a half years older. And looking forward to the number of Cory Friedman’s court reports reaching three figures.

However, if BMW Oracle wins, things could be different. They’ve talked a good game for how they might run the next Cup, but that hip pocket challenge will be the real test – what will it say about the 34th Cup?

I’m not the first person to think that any new challenge document needs to fix the Cup once and for all. It needs to ensure Deed of Gift altering, court approved, full and binding change – the kind of thing that will put the Cup on a sound footing as a 21st century professional sport. 

Team Origin’s principal, Sir Keith Mills, has recently talked about just this sort of thing - but what he hasn’t said, is what he’ll do if he doesn’t get it. 

Personally, I’m starting to think that if the new challenger agreement provides for no lasting change, then maybe it’s time for Sir Keith and all the other potential teams to think about walking away from the Cup, just letting that ugly old silver ewer go...

If nothing else, that threat might provide them with a brief moment of influence on the Cup’s future – but only if the challenger group act together.  If they do, there’s a chance, just a chance, that Blinghi can be pressured into fundamentally changing the way the America’s Cup is played.

And boy, do we need it. It’s the second time in twenty years that the Cup has been hauled off to the court room to the detriment of almost everyone involved, and we can be sure it won’t be the last, unless the Deed itself is modified to stop it happening again. 

The 33rd Cup that we’re watching, this monstrous battle of technology, lawyers, wallets and wills is actually much closer to the origins of the Cup than anything that happened in Valencia in 2007. Sad to relate, but this is what the Deed of Gift bestows on us as a Cup match, and unless the court approves changes to the Deed, it will revert to type every time it gets an opportunity. 

But a professional sport needs to offer all the stakeholders – sponsors, competitors, spectators, officials - continuity, security and a viable long-term business model. And it can’t do that while it’s being blown around by the whims, obsessions and largesse of the super rich. 

So, unless the new defender is going to apply to the court to change the game so it cannot be railroaded by the next rich guy to come along (which I accept would be like a turkey voting for Christmas), then perhaps the sailing community just has to let it go, let the Cup be what it is, and set about building the professional sport without it.

It won’t be easy, the America’s Cup can, and almost certainly will, carry on doing what it does best - pitting the financial behemoths of the time against each other in what will remain a headline grabbing arena. 

What’s so bad about that? About having this vast endeavour going on every time there are people willing to pay to play? It will enrich some of our number, and who knows, maybe someone will make a discovery that will define a new golden age of sail, make oil-fired container ships obsolete and help rescue us all from melting ice caps. 

The problem is that somehow the sailing community will have to get the message across to the mediaverse that this wild and wacky race doesn’t define the professional sport of sailing any more than cheese rolling defines athletics. 

But as I said, that isn’t going to be easy - I just pitched a major media organisation to provide reports on the upcoming Louis Vuitton Trophy in Auckland, and was turned down for the simple reason that it wasn’t the America’s Cup. Same people, same boats, wrong trophy. Turning that attitude around is going to take time, and it’s only going to happen if everyone outside Blinghi can get on the same page and agree what the alternative is… 

But that’s really for the future, in the first instance, the select group of people funding and organising the group of putative challengers have the big decision to make. And the moment they have to start making it is when the winning boat crosses the line to end the 33rd America’s Cup on the water. 

It’ll be a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity.

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Mark Chisnell ©

Over It…

A fair bit of water has flowed past the becalmed America’s Cup since my last post, a few weeks back. Alinghi's skipper Brad Butterworth had a go at Team New Zealand's Grant Dalton, but Dalts refused to bite.

Alinghi’s head honcho, Ernesto Bertarelli, went to Valencia looking to cut a deal for the venue of the 2009 America’s Cup match, even though Justice Cahn of the New York State Supreme Court (in whose hands the matter rests) has still to decide the date.

BMW Oracle announced officially what we’ve all known for a long time - that they are building a boat for the Deed of Gift match. And Alinghi followed up with an announcement that it’s going to take fifteen months to build their boat for a race that Justice Cahn may well schedule for this October. Perhaps they started ten months ago, and perhaps they didn't...

There was another predictable legal volte-face from Alinghi, when they returned to the courts in their efforts to stave off the Deed of Gift race until they have a boat ready for it – Noah should be so lucky as to have had recourse to the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division.

Fortunately, the inestimable Cory Friedman was there to make sense of it all in Part 21 and Part 22 of his Scuttlebutt oeuvre. Or not, depending on how you good you are at following tediously complex legal cases. I think his conclusion was that it's about to start raining on Alinghi's parade, and they need a little more Old Testament sense of urgency when it comes to boat building.

To all of which, my response was… yeah, well, yada, yada, whatever…

So it’s been hard to summon the enthusiasm to write something that might be worth reading. But eventually, guilt and/or a misguided protestant work ethic kicked in and I sat down to have a quick scout around the usual suspects on the interweb, to see if there was anything I'd missed. But when I turned up at the ever reliable Mariantic, I found this…

Mariantic is taking a break. Thanks for your support. More later.

I thought… maybe I’m not the only one with Cup fatigue.

And then I thought… what a great idea.

Enough already.

I have no fear for the future of the Cup. George Schuyler’s Deed of Gift and the desires that it inspires have always proven to be bigger than the shabby behaviour (and there’s a long, long history of it) that those very same desires can provoke. It’s the nature of the thing - the peaks of Fremantle’s liquid Himalayas were followed by the troughs in the swells of San Diego's 1988 mismatch - boom and bust, recession and bubble…

The Cup will get back on the water and put this shambles behind it, and that’ll be a good time to start taking an interest again. But I don’t need to follow every memo, motion, argument, appeal, order, stay, toll and cross-motion in the meantime, not least because Cory Friedman is doing a vastly superior job of it.

But also because I can see a whole lot more golf in that particular hole - given the attitude of the protagonists - and frankly, I’d rather write about sail boat racing, or travel, or just about anything other than two or three (four, five?) more years of arcane legal procedures in a New York court, accompanied by Alice in Wonderland press releases and briefly interrupted by three days of (albeit spectacular) but very one sided yacht racing.

So this blog will be back with a new brief, just as soon as I’ve figured it out. And if nothing inspires before then, the Volvo Ocean Race is coming up at the end of the northern summer, and that is going to be worth watching.

In the meantime, so long, and thanks for all the fish.


Mark Chisnell ©

Another Busy Week Going Nowhere…

Everyone who had no idea what a Tolling Agreement was until this week raise their hands. I guess that’s most of us. Since we left our sailing soap opera with a post last Friday, Tolling Agreements have gone from a dinky little new phrase to chuck around in the pub, to being central to any likely settlement of the future of the America’s Cup.

A Tolling Agreement, it turns out (I’ve been reading Cory Friedman Part 19…), is the legal way of stopping the clock on an event (building a nuclear plant, flooding a valley to build a hydro-electric dam, running the America’s Cup… all the normal stuff) while the legal action proceeds to a conclusion. Such an agreement was suggested by Justice Cahn way back in September last year, at the first hearing in the New York State Supreme Court. Both the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) and the Societe Nautique de Geneve (SNG) were in general agreement on the idea at the time – GGYC apparently even did the subsequent paperwork and signed an offer that... SNG rejected. So nothing exists in print, and as we all know, a verbal agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

Or maybe not…

The parties met before Justice Cahn on Wednesday, April 2nd, to try and settle the matter of the date of the 33rd America’s Cup match. And the account of that hearing forms Part 20 of Cory Friedman’s opus (odds on Cory laying down Part 60 around this time next year?). It does seem from reading this that GGYC have turned the straight-forward absence of a tolling agreement into a dog’s dinner of an argument about why the match should be in October 2008. The only motive for this that I can think of - rather than going for the jugular and insisting on a match according to the original challenge dates of July 2008 - is that they won’t be ready by then either. As to the rest of what went on at the hearing… Read Friedman’s account.

At the end of it all, Justice Cahn decided that he couldn’t decide at the hearing, and I’m not surprised, given the plethora of arguments and rationales for the various dates/hemispheres. There’s a rumour going round that he will issue a judgement in a week or two, but whether that gets us any closer to the 33rd America’s Cup (never mind the 34th) remains to be seen. There is still plenty of legal golf left in this hole. SNG can still drag the whole damn thing down to the Appellate Division although, as in 1988, that may not stop the Defender having to sail a match in the meantime. But the venue of that match, the rules that apply to it, the legality of the Challenger’s boat could all still be the subject of further court action… This is getting old isn't it?

If you want to read the reactions of either Alinghi or GGYC/BMW Oracle to all this, click on the links. But frankly, you’ve got better things to do, like... oh, you know... going sailing?

Meanwhile, the sailing team training that we reported on last week proceeded less than smoothly for Alinghi, who managed to flip Alain Gautier’s trimaran, Foncia, over in the Atlantic. The sound of hollow, Schadenfreudean chortling echoed around the world (discreetly - as two of the guys were airlifted ashore to hospital – no serious damage). But Alinghi fronted up with a decent press release (this one is worth reading), in which Ed Baird talked through the capsize, which happened while they were bearing away. Thierry Martinez was there to record the event in glowing colour.

If I were a crueller man, I would have found a picture of Ed standing on the upturned hull of Foncia and captioned it… ISAF Sailor of the Year. Then I’d have found a picture of Rohan Veal going Mach Ten in his foiler Moth and… And you can guess the rest, but it’s a way cheap shot. None of this is Ed's fault. As far as I know.

BMW Oracle Racing were having a more successful time of it, training on Groupama 2 with Franck Cammas. The Groupama website told us that Russell Coutts, John Kostecki and Jimmy Spithill had all been sailing with Cammas' and some of his crew. They kept it upright, and will move onto match racing in 60 foot multihulls next week…

Times are less entertaining for all those other teams that announced their planned participation in America’s Cup XXXIII way back in the halcyon days of last summer. The sound of slamming doors and keys turning can be heard all over Valencia. There are rumours of another round of retrenchment at one of the teams, while United Internet Team Germany shutdown on schedule on the 31st March with the somewhat mixed message that they plan to… ‘continue its previous, trustful and successful work in the 34th America's Cup on a basis of a new protocol / rule’. While simultaneously… ‘The contracts of all team members are discontinued and the base in Valencia will be closed for the time being after March 31 2008.’

This is presumably the death of the circuit of regattas proposed for this summer (in the old version five boats) that the German management had been working hard on. You can draw a couple of conclusions from this: if it doesn’t have official America’s Cup racing stamped on it, sponsors aren’t interested. In which case you can forget all those ideas about telling Alinghi they can keep the trophy and starting up the Louis Vuitton Cup instead. Or maybe this credit crunch thing is making life a little tough for the sponsorship hunters right now. In which case, perhaps it’s good that we’ve got an excuse to keep everyone off the water for a couple of years (decades?) till the good times roll again…

Meanwhile, the sailing teams are sticking together as much as they can, we’ve previously mentioned that the core Team Germany squad will be racing the TP52 Platoon (renamed Platoon powered by Team Germany). And on Wednesday, Valencia Sailing reported a press conference at Desafio Espanol, where they announced that they too would be sailing TP52s, along with a GP42 campaign this year. If there isn't some light at the end of the Cup tunnel soon, where might these teams turn next for some action?

And it seems that on the same day that CNEV’s (remember them, they used to be Desafio's yacht club and the Challenger of Record) lawyer was apparently up before Justice Cahn, Desafio were also announcing that they will now be representing Bilbao’s Real Club Maritimo del Abra. There is a lot more on this if you follow the Valencia Sailing link.

But that’s plenty enough for me…


Mark Chisnell ©

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 ©

Laying Down the Law…

Justice Cahn has spoken… on the 17th March 2008, the New York State Supreme Court ruled in favour of BMW Oracle and the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC), pushing aside the efforts of Alinghi and the Societe Nautique de Geneve (SNG) to overturn the 27th November 2007 judgement. If you haven’t been paying attention that was the one about the Club Náutico Español de Vela (CNEV) not being a proper Challenger of Record, substituting the GGYC in their place. So the judge read the wedge of ‘Keel Yacht’ papers provided by SNG, and dumped them in the trash where they belonged…

So much for the headlines, the detail is murkier, our gold standard in these legal matters has been Cory Friedman, writing in Scuttlebutt, and his latest take on the affair (Part 18, god help us...) makes it clear that he isn’t clear if this latest judgement is an actual court order, or not. If it is, then the you-have-30-days-to-appeal clock starts ticking. If it isn’t, then we’re still waiting for the order that has been pending since the end of November.

Still, that might not matter - Alinghi have declared that they won’t appeal in a statement posted on their website. But then, they said that before and then changed their minds, only to apparently change them back again.

Just as critical a part of the equation going forward is the date in Alinghi’s announcement – they are saying that they look forward to a Deed of Gift match with the GGYC in July 2009. But we know Oracle have in mind a date rather earlier – October 2008. In a phone call to Cory Friedman, quoted in the Scuttlebutt article, Ernesto Bertarelli tells our hero that…

‘SNG would not be ready to race in October 2008 if that turns out to be the date. He (Bertarelli) further confirmed that, if pressed to race in October 2008, SNG will forfeit.’

Friedman’s next action was to call GGYC and talk to Tom Ehman – who reckoned that as Challenger, they have the right to choose the match date and if SNG doesn’t like October 2008, then it’s up to them to do something about it. A later story in The Times online had a further explanation from Ehman on how the October date has been arrived at:

‘The Deed of Gift says that the Challenger chooses the date and must give ten months’ Notice of Challenge. So we challenged last July. We gave them not ten months, we gave them 12 months’ notice and chose dates in July 2008.

‘In December, after Justice Cahn’s ruling, we agreed with their attorneys then - they have since been excused by Alinghi - that we would race in October [2008]. So we gave them another 11 months’ notice from Justice Cahn’s decision and a total of 16 months’ notice [from the original challenge], and now they want two years’ notice. As far as we are concerned it is in October, we won’t go back now. Even though Justice Cahn makes it quite clear that the match could be in July [2008], we stand by our agreement.’

Are we headed back to court on this one? Justice Cahn has told them both that if they can’t agree a date for the match, then they can come back to him for a ruling, or use an independent neutral arbitrator.

So this looks like the next front in the battle, but I’d been reading the whole Keel Yacht affair as part of that same rearguard action on the part of Alinghi: namely, using the courts to stall because they had started the multi-hull design and build process after Oracle and were playing for time to catch up.

On the face of it, it’s hard to see how SNG are going to bring about a Cup match in 2009 without using the court to further this same strategy. But when you read the order, you can see how Alinghi might have decided that the legal route was not getting them anywhere – despite two sets of extremely expensive lawyers.

So their next move has been to send a letter to the GGYC, which is posted on their website, to explain why they think that the earliest date a match could happen would be 1st May 2009. This argument is largely based on the idea that the ten month notice period is interrupted by the litigation. This notion is discussed in Justice Cahn’s decision where he states, ‘Contrary to SNG’s assertion, that the parties wound up entangled on legal proceedings, which “interrupted” the 10-month period, does not invalidate the Notice of Challenge’.

Although Justice Cahn is not expressly dismissing the idea of an interruption to the 10-month notice period, given those quotations marks I’m not sure I’d want to be stepping up in front of him and trying to argue its validity in order to postpone the event to 2009…

So… perhaps… Bertarelli’s declaration that Alinghi would forfeit the Cup rather than be forced to race in October 2008 is the first shot in a new gambit – calling the court and Oracle’s bluff. Would Larry Ellison accept the Cup as a forfeit, and collect the opprobrium of the world along with it?

And there’s another angle here (since we seem to have started a game of what if...), which is that the time and place of the forfeit would presumably be at Ernesto Bertarelli’s choosing, by delivering a letter to that end to the GGYC - no prizes for guessing what might well be delivered a couple of seconds later… no, not a pizza… another Deed of Gift challenge for the next America’s Cup.

Once SNG’s challenge was placed with the newly minted Cup holders (by forfeit) at the GGYC (for the summer of 2009, presumably), they would have to accept it. The circle would be complete and the rest of the challengers would be just as locked out as they are now… And the Deed of Gift match goes back to July 2009 anyway.

This idea has some traction (hey, I’m speculating, but who isn’t?), given how hard it is to tune in a picture of Bertarelli just handing the Cup back… It might be the best leverage he has for getting the Deed of Gift match when he wants it – and short of having a representative of the GGYC’s preferred Challenger of Record accommodated in the entrance hall at the San Francisco yacht club 24/7 to shadow all arrivals of mail and couriers, I don’t see quite what Oracle can do to counter this play…

There are various responses to all this posted around the net, if you haven’t caught up with them yet, then Dalts response for Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) is on their website, and the K Challenge reaction is on BYM News

Meanwhile, sailing preparations continue unabated at BMW Oracle. It looks like the latest to sign up to the Coutts juggernaut are former ETNZ sail designer, Robert Hook, and Craig Phillips. Phillips has long been Hooky’s right-hand man, joining him at OneWorld in 2003, and then moving to ETNZ for the 2007 Cup - I can’t remember any further back than that…

The rest of the BMW Oracle sailing team were also announced this week, along with a training programme that spans Extreme 40s to TP52s. Joining Coutts at the back of the boat are John Kostecki (tactician), Jimmy Spithill (helmsman), Hamish Pepper (strategist) and Michele Ivaldi (navigator). There are plenty of names from the 2007 Oracle sailing roster, but there are more from the old Luna Rossa sailing team that Spithill led to a Louis Vuitton semi-final in 2007. What there aren't are any multi-hull specialists - these guys all have America's Cup stamped through them like rock... check out the recently resuscitated BMW Oracle website (bring back the BOB!) for the full list.

Also away from the courts, Team Shosholoza has been forced to deny reports that it’s folded (just like most of the world’s investment banks then). The head honcho, Captain Salvatore Sarno commented that they still had staff at the base in Valencia and, ‘In South Africa, our naval architect Alex Simonis and his team is working on our new AC 90 campaign yacht. We are going ahead even though the rules and dimensions might change.’

And there was a Paris presentation by Marc Pajot, head of the new French America’s Cup challenge, French Spirit. I think (it’s all in French) that Pajot announced that he will be joined by Philippe Presti as skipper and Bertrand Pacé as helmsman – a pretty tidy starting line-up. Presti was the back-up helmsman with Luna Rossa in 2007, and Pace is a former ISAF number one ranked match racer. This is of course for the 34th Cup, as the 33rd will be invites only to Oracle and Alinghi…


Mark Chisnell ©

Cup, what Cup?

I’ve just checked the date on my last blog post, and it was six weeks ago. But I guess that’s about the level of attention that the America’s Cup deserves right now - just the occasional glance over the shoulder towards the court room… yup, still there, bickering away…

BBC correspondent Robert Peston has just written a book (Who Runs Britain?) on the rise and rise of the super rich, the market failings that have allowed this to happen and the distorting impact that it has had on British society and the economy - hey, Robert, over here, you missed a bit…

It’s a shame we don’t have the collective will to start Rule 69 proceedings, chuck a couple of people out of the sport for five years and see how the dust settles on that. In fact, if Team New Zealand wanted to go down the legal route, it might have been just as profitable to turn up at the next Farr 40 regatta and slap a Rule 69 report on the desk of the protest committee. The rule is ambiguous - as far as I can see - on whether bringing the sport into disrepute has to be done at the actual regatta in question…

But hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself - back at the ranch house the court room affairs have (as always) been best reported by Cory Friedman for Scuttlebutt, and there have been four additions to the oeuvre since we last posted – someone is sticking with it, at least...

Part 14 was on the January 23rd hearing in the New York State Supreme Court before the venerable Justice Cahn. Nothing much happened, except the Société Nautique de Genève's (SNG) new lawyer, Barry Ostrager, managed to obfuscate and stall sufficiently that the GGYC team couldn’t get the killer blow in. Come back later.

And so they did, on January 28th, when the hearing was covered in Friedman’s Part 15. This was mostly about the whole ‘Keel Yacht’ issue that SNG are using to try and establish that the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) challenge is invalid. Friedman covers where the issue came from (the words were copied from the 1987 Kiwi challenge that led the Cup into court last time), and why it threatens GGYC when they are so close to getting a ten count on SNG…

Personally, like Friedman, I think the use of ‘keel yacht’ in the challenge paperwork is irrelevant and have said so before – GGYC provided the dimensions in their challenge, and SNG can sail what the hell they like anyway, as evidenced by the court’s decision in 1988. In that case, the court allowed San Diego’s multihull to race against New Zealand’s monohull behemoth. But whether or not this judge, Justice Cahn, will see it that way once he’s waded through the blizzard of paperwork that SNG have presented to murk up the case remains to be seen.

GGYC finally got around to making this fundamental point in a letter to the Judge, sent after the January 28th hearing. It was the subject of Freidman’s Part 16 which finished with a nice summary of the state of affairs that still pertains (in this court case), at this point in time:

‘GGYC argues that Justice Cahn should sign its proposed order, dated December 11, 2007 (an October 2008 match), and send the case to the Appellate Division, First Department, if SNG, as promised, appeals. SNG argues that Justice Cahn should DSQ GGYC or refer the matter to ISAF, without, however, citing any provision of the New York Civil Practice and Rules that would authorize Justice Cahn to make such a referral, or provide a mechanism to do so.’

And so, the teams continue their preparations for the DoG fight in Cats...

Not a lot else has happened in the intervening six weeks, or even in the two months since the last full update. There was talk in an Italian newspaper, Fare Vela (and reported in English here) that a race circuit might be set up for the Version 5 Cup boats, with the possible venues including Cowes, Kiel, Trieste, and Valencia, with Alinghi, United Internet Team Germany, TeamOrigin, Shosholoza, Victory Challenge, Desafìo, one of the two French Teams, Emirates Team New Zealand and one team from China all supposedly involved.

And the Brits, in the shape of the Royal Thames Yacht Club (RTYC) and Team Origin, filed a Deed of Gift Challenge with SNG. This seemed to be something of an ass-covering exercise, just in case a vacuum should open up with the judge throwing out the Golden Gate Yacht Club’s challenge (on the basis of the keel-yacht), along with the earlier first challenge from Club Nautico Espanol de Vela (CNEV) that’s been the bone of contention all along. But until both of these things happens, I don’t think we have to worry too much about this one…

Each of the putative challenging teams is responding in a different way to the circumstances. Team Germany will begin laying off its sailors at the end of the month (but they may get new contracts if they race in the proposed Version 5 series, which they seem to be prime motivators behind). That includes Sport Director, Joechen Schuemann, who must be dead pleased he left Alinghi for the German challenge. Michael Scheeren, the team’s owner, was quoted by German magazine Focus as saying, ‘A certain number of contracts, including Jochen Schuemann's, expires on March 31 and we will not be extended. We cannot continue to finance a large team without knowing more about where the America's Cup will take place in 2011.’

So Schuemann and his mates have headed off to race TP52s with Harm Muller-Spreer's Platoon. Muller-Spreer has gone from steering his own boat and racing with a few mates, to a fully cocked pseudo-Cup programme in the space of two seasons. And this quote from the Adonnante article gives you an idea of how those changes might play out in the wider TP52 class:

‘The only thing about the MedCup circuit that, honestly, bothers me is that- it is going to be very professional of course - we have to take care that is not taking off like the Formula 1 motor racing where one guy, Bernie Ecclestone, is dominating everything. The MedCup is a business for some, it is about earning money, but my feeling is that they have to ask the owners of the boats a little more, because without the owners and the teams there is no MedCup… At the end it is private owners who are pushing it forwards and these professional teams are coming forward. At the beginning it was the King of Spain, and guys like this, and you have to keep asking them as well.’

I talked about the possible impact the Cup hiatus might have on the TP52s back on January 2nd, and here’s evidence of the pressure it is putting the owners under. Watch this space.

But it’s the response of Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) to their predicament that has caused the most excitement of late. They have also been laying off staff – nearly a third of the team so far. Then, at the beginning of March, the Kiwis lodged their own set of papers with the New York Courts, in two separate cases. In the first, SNG, Team Alinghi, Ernesto Bertarelli and America's Cup Management (ACM) are all charged in the New York State Supreme Court with breach of contract in not organising an America’s Cup in 2009 – for which ETNZ claim they had a binding agreement (Justice Cahn has been assigned to this case).

And just for good measure, there’s an anti-trust case in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, against the same group, over the way they have handled organizing the Cup so far, and the pretty pass to which it has brought us all. Dalton and co want damages in excess of US$12 million - Alinghi were quick to respond and Dalton explained the background in an interview in which the - previously very pro-Alinghi and partisan - BYM website agreed that CNEV was not a valid yacht club....

Once again, Cory Friedman waded into the breach, with Part 17, and Friedman’s conclusion was… don’t hold your breath. None of this is going to get settled any time soon, and almost certainly not before the main GGYC v SNG case. If you want to know why, I’ll refer you to Part 17, 'cos I’m going to leave it right there. Hell will freeze over before we see another Cup match at this rate of progress...

But come October, there will be guys racing around the planet at Mach 3 with their ass on fire, and it’s going to be a whole lot more interesting than this - did I mention I’m going to be writing for the Volvo Ocean Race? Now that is something we can all get excited about....


Mark Chisnell ©

Same Old, Same Old...

The action continues unabated in the Americas Cup court case, but frankly, from the beaches of Northern Peru and the cloud forested flanks of Machu Pichu, its pretty hard to get excited about the to and fro of the legal arguments, which are no closer to being resolved. I keep thinking I should do a proper blog update, but, well, the surf is looking pretty good...

For those who want to follow the latest court wrangling, then I can point you to the ever reliable Cory Friedman, writing for Scuttlebutt...

Normal service will be resumed as soon as I return to the frozen north, but at this rate of legal progress I very much doubt there would be anything significant to report if I stayed here till the end of the southern summer...


Mark Chisnell ©


Hope you all enjoyed a relaxing Christmas and New Year break – because the Alinghi lawyers certainly didn’t…

The Swiss team has followed up their pre-Christmas barrage of new legal issues with an appeal posted in the New York State Supreme court on the 27th December. The latest contention is that the Golden Gate Yacht Club’s (GGYC) challenge (on behalf of Larry Ellison’s Oracle team) is invalid, because it didn’t accurately describe the challenging yacht. The court documents have been posted on the America’s Cup website, along with a press release.

The GGYC’s challenge can still be found on their website and you’ll see that it describes a keel yacht of ninety feet length and beam. As soon as everyone saw this, they thought… multi-hull. But Alinghi are arguing that this assumption is at odds with the words ‘keel yacht’ which implies a mono-hull. They reckon the GGYC challenge should go the same way as that of the Club Nautico Espanol de Vela (CNEV), because a ‘keel yacht’ or mono-hull to those dimensions would be so misshapen that it wouldn’t be fit for the race course.

This is what Lucien Masmejan, lead counsel for Alinghi’s challenging club, Société Nautique de Genève (SNG), had to say – ‘The purpose of the boat certificate is to give the Defender a precise idea of what the challenging boat will be in order to prepare its Defense. The history of the Cup has shown how important was the adequacy of the certificate with regard to the validity of the challenge… We want to make sure this is the boat they would show up with and not a multi-hull, or their challenge would deem to be invalid.’

But my reading of the recent history of the Cup would indicate the opposite – the New York State Supreme court had no problem with Dennis Connor defending in a catamaran when Michael Fay turned up in his 135 foot mono-hull in 1988. So if the defender can use whatever type of boat comes to hand, then why do the semantics of the challenger’s boat certificate matter? I suspect they don't, and I also suspect that many at Alinghi know this - as we've suggested before, they're just stalling. They need to put the date of the Cup back as far as possible to catch up with Oracle's multi-hull programme, and this is just a legal tool to that end.

Understandably, the GGYC’s response was swift, posting comments on their website the same day, ‘If these arguments were valid they would have been presented months ago,’ according to Tom Ehman, Oracle’s spokesman. ‘But unfortunately they now look like a rather desperate measure by Alinghi's new lawyers. We are confident they will be rejected by the Court.’ Most observers are giving these arguments equally short shrift – for instance, Richard Gladwell does a nice job of taking them apart in a Sail-World article, and it will be interesting to see what Justice Cahn makes of them when the parties return to court on the 14th January.

In the meantime, GGYC and Oracle then followed up their initial response with a statement from CEO Russell Coutts, two days later. It told us what most people have expected for some time – that Oracle will compete for the next America’s Cup under the basic provisions of the Deed of Gift. Coutts reckoned, ‘We had hoped to negotiate a conventional regatta under the Deed’s mutual consent provisions. But the Defender has made it clear to us and the America’s Cup community that they will not negotiate. We are now fully committed to a multi-hull event in 2008.’ Someone, somewhere started laying up carbon fibre on a bloody great multi-hull at about the same time as that announcement was posted - if they hadn't already.

If nothing else, this clears the air – it’s now a straight fight between Ellison and Bertarelli and their chosen intermediaries, both legal and sailing. But it’s obviously not good news for any of the other teams, who can no longer pretend that they are doing anything other than standing on the sidelines, watching. Sir Keith Mills at Team Origin had already announced a retrenchment back in mid-December, ‘My principal goal now is to keep TEAMORIGIN together so as to be able to compete for the America’s Cup at some time in the future. Without any certainty today as to when, where and how that will be I am reluctantly forced to slow things down and stand the team down from full operational mode.’ There are similar noises coming out of Team New Zealand, United Internet Team Germany and Desafio Espanol.

So it’s a wintry New Year for the America’s Cup community, although in reality, things aren’t that much worse than last time. There’s still every chance that there will be a multi-challenge Cup in 2011 – a four year gap, as there was between 2003 and 2007, and shorter than the endless wait between 1995 and 2000, when the Kiwis defended for the first time. But it could have been so different, and so many plans have been laid and lives altered, only for this to completely derail it all…

From the sailor’s point of view, the great thing about the Cup has always been the vast sums of money that some people are prepared to spend to win the thing. It doesn’t just mean good salaries; it means money for research and learning stuff about boats that doesn’t happen anywhere else. But the billionaire bloated budgets come at a price – the whole game is played at the whim of the owners, and every so often, something like this is going to happen.

But there is a danger that the influx of out-of-work Cup sailors into other areas of the sport – like the TP52’s for instance – might have the same impact as during the last Cup hiatus in 1988-90. There was a marked increase in professionalism in the old International Offshore Rule (IOR) boats, as the AC class of ’87 looked around for somewhere else to cut their competitive teeth. And the 1989 Admiral’s Cup turned out to be the beginning of the end for both that regatta and the IOR (guilty as charged, m’lud).

But I think things are different now – the Fremantle America’s Cup was a step change in the numbers and outlook of professional sailors. And while both the numbers and the professional standards have been growing steadily ever since then, I don’t think the 2007 Cup had a comparable, paradigm-shifting effect like the event twenty years earlier. So while you can expect to see the TP52 fleet gear up another level this summer, with Cup sailors and some teams focusing on it as an alternative outlet for their activities, hopefully the class and the sport have developed sufficiently for that to be a good thing, not a bad one.

And things are still bright-ish from the perspective of the America’s Cup spectator. I suspect a catamaran challenge is going to be well worth watching. Not for very long, mind you, but for those first few minutes of the first race, it’s going to be must-see, water-cooler entertainment of the highest order…


Mark Chisnell ©

Déjà Vu

I’m getting that 1987 feeling all over again. In the summer of that year there were syndicate heads queuing at the docks to hire sailors at the 12 Meter Worlds in Porto Cervo. Just months later it was all so much smoke as the Mercury Bay Challenge got underway and events inexorably slid into the hands of the lawyers and took on a momentum of their own.

Back in 2007, the latest round of legal bickering has taken the whole thing to a new level and my own interest is sitting right on the edge here… Can I be bothered to sift through this to figure out what’s going on? Just about...

To recap – the New York State Supreme Court, in the person of Justice Herman Cahn, previously decided that the Club Nautico Espanol de Vela (CNEV) was not a valid Challenger of Record, and that they should be replaced by the club that brought the legal challenge – Oracle’s Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC).

Contrary to the impression I may have given you at the end of the last post, it seems that we have subsequently been waiting for the good judge to deliver an order which would tell us all where and when the next America’s Cup would be held. The GGYC were pushing for a match at the end of next summer, while Alinghi’s yacht club, the Société Nautique de Genève (SNG), were trying to get it put back to July 2009 - all of which you can find explained with great clarity and some detail by Cory Friedman, in his Scuttlebutt stories Part 10 and Part 11.

SNG have now got themselves some shiny new laywers, and they have gone into battle on as many fronts as they can open. They have challenged the court’s authority to decide that GGYC is in fact the valid Challenger of Record, as well as the court’s authority to decide when and where the America’s Cup match will be held. Justice Cahn seems to have agreed with some or all of these points, and to settle them has called a new hearing for the 14th January.

So the court order will not be issued prior to this – and even when it is, there is still a 30 day window for either CNEV or SNG to challenge the order and appeal. There is plenty of evidence that either CNEV or SNG, or even both clubs plan to appeal – and that would kick the whole thing into the long grass for er… maybe not that long. Or perhaps longer. Who knows? Who cares?

We don’t even know what we don’t know until sometime in late January or early February. But from the way it’s shaping up, SNG want a Deed of Gift match in catamarans, but they don’t want it till 2009 – and it appears that they have plenty of tools to delay it until then. And all that despite the fact their PR people are still saying they won't appeal...

As to the negotiations over longer term changes to the Deed of Gift that Bertarelli started up last week (covered in the last post, whose title End Game now stares mockingly back at me), they appear to be going on somewhere, and I would point you back to Cory’s Scuttlebutt story - if you didn’t read it all the first time – for an analysis of that issue. Suffice to say here that there are serious issues to be overcome for any change to take place.

Hard to credit then, but new challenges are still emerging – there’s another from Spain – just like buses, nothing for ages, then two or three all at once. This one is called Decision Challenge, and comes out of the Reial Club Maritim de Barcelona and Real Club Nautico de Madrid – do these people read the newspapers?

Based on the 1987 experience, now is a very good time to pull your horns in, go and do something else and come back when the lawyers have exhausted their armory and the whole thing once again involves some sailing. Volvo Ocean Race anyone? Former GBR Challenge and Plus 39 sailor Ian Walker certainly thinks so, he was announced as skipper of the Irish Green Team this week.


Mark Chisnell ©

End Game?

I promised myself that I wouldn’t post another blog update until Ernesto Bertarelli and/or his various intermediaries at America’s Cup Management (ACM), Alinghi or Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) had made a response to the dilemma he was posed after the New York State Supreme court’s decision ten days ago.

Essentially, Bertarelli’s choices were to appeal the court’s decision, and they have thirty days to do that once the actual court order is issued in the next week or so. Or they could meet with the new Challenger of Record, the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) and its Oracle Racing team, and negotiate a new Protocol for the 33rd Cup, by mutual consent, that would give us the kind of event we’re used to seeing – with multiple challengers.

Or Bertarelli could simply decide to meet the GGYC in what might be called a Deed of Gift Challenge – one where mutual consent could not be reached on the form of the 33rd America’s Cup, so the races have to be sailed under the basic conditions that the Deed of Gift specifies for such an occasion. Essentially, this means a three race series in big multi-hulls, either at the tail end of next summer, or early in May 2009.

And for most of last week, there was a collective holding of breath (at least amongst those of you still following this), and much sucking of teeth while Bertarelli made up his mind. I found it a little odd that he hadn’t already decided in advance on his response to all the possible outcomes - but then, maybe he wasn’t kidding when he said he couldn’t lose the court case because he had the best lawyers.

In the meantime, the GGYC held a meeting with the other challengers, which resulted in a letter to the SNG from the head of Oracle Racing, Russell Coutts, explaining what they wanted changed in the current Protocol to achieve mutual consent for a match. Meanwhile, Russell was stonewalling the tricky questions in a way that would make any Presidential contender proud, and commentators were trying to figure out what it all meant...

Until finally, last Friday, Bertarelli appeared to have decided to negotiate – but being Bertarelli, he's not talking about just negotiating a solution to the impasse of the 33rd America's Cup. He’s thrown all the cards on the table, insisting that the Deed of Gift itself is changed to completely reformulate the Cup for his vision. And if he can’t get agreement on this, he’ll chose to race in cats, saying: ‘If this revision of the governing documents of the America's Cup cannot be achieved, we will have to accept the GGYC challenge under the Deed of Gift.’

The statement is here and asks three questions – they are fundamental to the nature of the America’s Cup:

‘Should the Defender automatically be qualified for the final AC Match or should all teams start on equal footings?

‘Should the schedule of venues and content of regulations be announced several cycles in advance allowing planning and funding?

‘Should the governance of the Cup become permanent and be managed by entities representing past and current trustees as well as competing teams?’

For a more extensive outline of what these ideas might mean for the Cup, there is also an interview by Alinghi’s Grant Simmer with BYM News, who appear to have become the team's news outlet of choice. Or maybe it's just because few of the rest of us can actually be bothered to pick up the phone and ask a few questions - and I include myself in that. Anyway, Bertarelli also says that he’s spoken to Larry Ellison about these ideas, and reckons that he is supportive. The New York Yacht Club (NYYC) – the original trustees – have also confirmed that they are willing to join discussions on the basis of Bertarelli’s three points.

Charles H. Townsend, the present NYYC Commodore said, ‘We were approached earlier in the year by Mr. Ernesto Bertarelli of Societe Nautique de Geneve (SNG), the current holder of the Cup. We concluded that given our club's founding association with the competition we can work impartially to assist in the development of initiatives to preserve and build competition for the oldest international trophy in sport, and ensure that it will endure as a premiere global sporting event for generations to come.’ The NYYC’s full statement is here.

As you’d expect, the response from the sailing community has been mixed. Leading the charge against is Bob Fisher, with an open letter to Bertarelli in the sailing newsletter, Scuttlebutt. Others are a little skeptical about Bertarelli’s timing – over at Sail-World, Richard Gladwell was wondering why Bertarelli had chosen to do this now, rather than when he won the Cup back in July.

The answer would appear to be that it’s either a last, desperate effort to bring his vision of the America’s Cup future into being. Or a misdirect – as suggested by Oracle’s spokesman, Tom Ehman in a New York Times story, ‘We just hope that this letter is not intended to distract from the important question of getting A.C. 33 and our challenge on track.’

I suspect that it’s a little of both – Berterelli has been persistent on this theme of modernization of the Cup since he started to get involved. But it also gives him a let out from the current circumstances, where he is being blamed by everyone - from the other Challengers through the spectators to the burghers of Valencia - for the hold-ups in getting the next Cup organised. If this final toss of the chips onto the table works, then Bertarelli gets what he’s always wanted. If it doesn’t, then he can hold his hands up, tell everyone he tried his best, but well, we’re just going to have to settle this in catamarans…

And Alinghi should have the advantage in a catamaran match – if I remember rightly, they don’t have to announce the venue until a month before the event. Oracle will be building a boat to perform in anything from 5 knots to 40, while Alinghi can tailor it to the windsurfing breezes of Tarifa or the light air of Capri. With this edge, Bertarelli may well fancy his chances in multi-hulls, after all that sailing on the Swiss Lakes. And another win would allow him to pass go, collect £200 and start again with another, watertight, Challenger of Record and his Protocol of choice.

But it’s an advantage that money – which Ellison has plenty of – can overcome. Why build one catamaran, when you can build three or four…?


Mark Chisnell ©

The Fur Flies

Back from the surf trip after a double-overhead session at Harlyn Bay yesterday...

And the fall-out continues to land in the America’s Cup, following the decision by Justice Cahn of the New York Supreme Court to remove Club Nautico Espanol de Vela (CNEV) as Challenger of Record, and replace them with the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) and Oracle Racing.

Next out of the blocks was Desafio Espanol, with a statement posted on the Valencia Sailing blogspot saying that they challenged through CNEV in good faith, having consulted with renowned legal advisers, and only ever wanted the best for the sport of sailing, Valencia and Spain… yada, yada, yada. Sigh.

Bruno Troublé broke the silence that he has maintained since Louis Vuitton pulled out of their quarter century of America’s Cup sponsorship. He penned a piece for Scuttlebutt, which pretty much blasted everything to do with the 33rd iteration that America’s Cup Management (ACM) had been trying to organize…

‘I am shocked to see the defender sailing WITH the challengers (no more of this great mystery at the start of the first final race) and at ACM naming the judges, umpires, and committees with no reference to ISAF...

'I am furious to see the 90-foot box rule. Anyone involved in the America’s Cup knows that the best match racing boats do NOT accelerate from 10 to 20 knots when luffing 10 degrees downwind. They are STUCK in the water the same way the 12s and the IACC were. Do not confuse these fast-accelerating sleds with the impressive looking J’s boats, as the defender has stated.’

Over at Team New Zealand, Grant Dalton reckoned the court judgement was ‘the outcome he was waiting for…’ according to an article in the New Zealand Herald. Tim Jeffrey then broke a story in the Daily Telegraph that Dalton and Team New Zealand had demanded compensation from Alinghi and Ernesto Bertarelli for the postponement of the America's Cup. The article reckoned, ‘Dalton's estimate of losses to his Kiwi team of £12 million if the America's Cup is put back to 2010, and £17 million if it is 2011…’

Sail-World subsequently confirmed the story with a statement from Dalton...

'The report in the Telegraph is substantially true.

'Before Emirates Team New Zealand entered the 2009 America’s Cup we sought from Ernesto Bertarelli the security of a side agreement that the event would indeed be held in 2009.

'Bertarelli was adamant the Cup regatta would go ahead as scheduled and entered into a binding agreement on July 25 2007.

'Emirates Team New Zealand entered into the agreement in good faith. The contract provided the assurance we needed to plan for 2009. For Ernesto Bertarelli the agreement with Emirates Team New Zealand ensured another entry for 2009.

'On November 22 2007 AC Management announced that the America’s Cup had been postponed.

'All challengers including Oracle are still adamant they want an event in 2009. This can be achieved easily now as a result of the New York Supreme court decision in favour of Oracle. The decision allows for a mutually agreed document as the basis of the next America’s Cup.

'Such a document has already been formulated between Oracle and the challengers.

'None of the nine points in this document can be construed as onerous for Alinghi.

'As far as Emirates Team New Zealand is concerned the agreement entered into is a simple contract. Therefore we are surprised that Alinghi has seen fit to put this letter in the public domain.'

Meanwhile, BYM News is running a story that backs up the notion that GGYC/Oracle are working hard towards a 2009 Cup, with leaked letters coming from Tom Ehman and Russell Coutts to interested parties – they have links to the letters and the story here which outlines Oracle's efforts to get Alinghi and Bertarelli to the table to sort out the next event.

But so far, there’s been a deafening silence from the Swiss, and the Detroit Free Press is quoting Tom Ehman (Oracle’s spokesman) as saying that Brad Butterworth didn’t show up for a meeting with Russell on Friday. A subsequent phone call to Alinghi by the paper has been met with the response that they’re still assessing their options. So we’re still left wondering what Bertarelli’s decision will be – negotiate, appeal or race in cats?

And finally, Sebastien Destremau outlines why Russell and Oracle might not be that heart-broken should Alinghi chose the final option and meet a 2008 challenge in giant catamarans, in a story for Eurobutt (scroll down past Magnus) – sentiments which are echoed by a New Zealand Herald article which may owe something to Sebastien’s thoughts – or is it the other way around? Hard to tell on the internet…

When I started this blog at the end of the last Cup and tackbytack.com’s coverage, I made some rules for myself about only doing AC news. Stay away from other events and opinion pieces – otherwise the damn thing is going to take over your life (and unless you see any advertising around here, I need some spare time to try and earn a living…) just like madforsailing.com did in its day...

The last few weeks (Tornadoes out of the Olympics, Baird not Veal for ISAF World Sailor of the Year, not to mention the ongoing descent into self-destruction of the Cup itself), have sorely tried those limits. But I’m toughing it out – self-interest rules, even when venality is held at bay… why should sailing be any different?

Or maybe I've just got cynical...


Mark Chisnell ©

Oracle 1 - Alinghi 0

Err…. What did I say on the last post? Hopefully there’s a wi-fi link in case there’s something worth reporting? Well there was - wi-fi and something worth reporting, that is… the Spanish yacht club Club Náutico Español de Vela (CNEV) have been eased from their position as Challenger of Record (COR) by Justice Cahn of the New York State Supreme Court. The new COR is the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) and Oracle Racing.

The court decision has been posted on the GGYC website, along with the club’s response, in which Oracle CEO, Russell Coutts, expresses a desire for a conventional America’s Cup regatta in Valencia. Their preferences are:

'1) Seek to agree rules with all competitors along the lines of the October 17 “nine points” compromise proposal and race a conventional America’s Cup competition in Valencia in 2009.

2) If a Deed of Gift challenge went ahead, the club would seek to race under the AC90 monohull rule already published. If Alinghi did not agree to that, in multi-hulls.

3) In all scenarios, GGYC would seek by mutual consent to have a Challenger Selection Series with as many challengers as possible. “We will immediately endeavour to meet with the other challengers to mutually agree a fair set of rules negotiated with all the other teams,” Coutts said. “We will be very happy if we can put the last few months behind us and get on with sailing.”'

So, what happens from here? Will Alinghi negotiate on that basis, sail in cats or appeal? Alinghi made a curt statement yesterday that has been filled out in an interview with Brad Butterworth on their website today, the 28th November.

Hard to judge how it’s going to go from that - Brad certainly doesn’t seem to think anything is going to be settled anytime soon. While the two sides didn’t seem that far apart when negotiations broke down a few days ago, we really don’t know how much mud is flying behind the scenes…

Meanwhile, as this is all over every news outlet – sailing and mainstream media – and is hard to miss (unless you're surfing in darkest Cornwall) I’m only going to point you in the direction of three of them, and the first two were kindly provided for me by John Whalen… First the New York Times and then the International Herald Tribune - both are luminaries of the global media, one is rather better than the other…

But for the real deal, I’d suggest you go straight to Cory Friedman, writing for Scuttlebutt – where he explains exactly why GGYC have won, and why the chance of reversal on appeal is unlikely…. It’s all to do with the word ‘having’ - and it means that you need to have had an annual regatta on an arm of the sea, as well as going to have one….

Whoever said precise grammar wasn’t important?


Mark Chisnell ©

The AP is Hoisted…

The much flagged, smoke-signalled, rumoured and inevitable postponement has become fact - America’s Cup Management (ACM) have finally announced that the original date for a Cup defence of 2009 cannot be achieved…

‘The ongoing uncertainty around the conclusion of the New York court case brought by BMW Oracle Racing (BOR) leaves the organisers no choice but to delay the event, as many indicators demonstrate a lack of viability to stage the event in 2009 to the same standards as the 32nd America's Cup.’

Meanwhile they will await the result from the New York State Supreme Court, and…

‘If the New York Supreme Court rules that CNEV (Challenger of Record, Club Náutico Español de Vela) is valid and BOR chooses not to appeal the decision, ACM will endeavour to work with the competitors to adapt the existing rules and regulations and put in place a new framework for an event to take place at a later stage in Valencia.

‘Should the US Courts rule against CNEV, SNG will accept the Golden Gate Yacht Club Deed of Gift Challenge and meet them in a vessel, possibly a multihull, in accordance with the terms of the Deed of Gift.’

GGYC’s response was posted on their website as efficiently as ever. Tom Ehman saying that the delay was ‘Unfortunate and unnecessary...’ Presumably they are now working flat out on what that 90 foot cat might look like... unless Alinghi are bluffing about not appealing. What a game.

There's been plenty of speculation that ACM need the time to do things like find a sponsor for the Cup. And the Spanish media are alleging that there's a stand-off between the Mayor of Valencia and the Government over who holds the Chair of the organisation that will run the Valencia side of the event. Apparently the Government want it to rotate, and Mayor Barbera is insisting that it’s her privilege alone - meanwhile the organisation appears to be in some sort of limbo. Something else that perhaps needs a little time to sort out?

Another issue that will arise out of the postponement is the planned expansion of Valencia's port - I believe the work to double the port’s operational area was originally slated for 2010/11 – no problem under the 2009 scenario, but a bit tricky now.

It’s also interesting that ACM have left the entry deadline at 15th December - a little over three weeks away. It means challengers have to stump up a 950,000 Euro performance bond that they will lose should they not subsequently turn up at a series of events whose whereabouts and timing are completely unknown. Now I know a million Euros is not a lot of money in the greater scheme of an America’s Cup campaign, but it’s still the kind of dough that would buy you a pretty decent house around these parts. Just.

Nevertheless, there appear to be plenty of takers, perhaps driven by the declining number of shorebases in Valencia, and/or the need to enter to renew existing leases and maintain operations there. ACM stated in the press release that they now have eight entered challengers, with another couple doing the paperwork. Presumably Mascalzone is one of them, announcing their challenge through the Reale Yacht Club Canottieri Savoia (RYCCS) on their website, but with no detail. Or what might be interpreted as a marked lack of enthusiasm. They have been joined by the new Spanish syndicate AYRE Challenge, representing Real Club Náutico de Dénia (RCND) – more detail on this one at Valencia Sailing blogspot.

But who’s the eighth? An earlier announcement from ACM had stated that… ‘In addition to Ayre's entry, there is one other new team whose challenge has already been confirmed, but who has requested confidentiality pending its own announcement.’

Meanwhile, the uncertainty has forced Team New Zealand (TNZ) to issue denials of a Times story that Dalton would shut the operation down if the court case wasn’t settled by the end of the year. It might make sense to close the doors for a while till the dust settles, these teams burn money while they're operating, but TNZ has a much greater asset value as a going concern than as a fire-sale of pieces. I can't believe that Dalts would shut it down completely as anything but an absolutely last resort...

Team Origin have responded to the situation with some pretty direct language... 'If that (settlement and a 2010/11 event) doesn't happen we can only surmise the greed of one side is only matched by the belligerence of the other.'

While Sail-World have another interview with Hamish Ross, Alinghi's General Counsel, which doesn't - to be honest - tell us much we don't already know...

And as for the much maligned issue of CNEV’s annual regatta (which may or may not be at the heart of the court case), their third attempt to hold it is underway

There’s an interview with Grant Simmer, Alinghi’s design team coordinator on their website

And I'm off surfing next week, although the swell forecast is marginal at best, there comes a time when you just have to get in the water regardless. But hopefully there will be a wi-fi link somewhere should there be anything worth reporting...


Mark Chisnell ©

No, Non, Nein…

The Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) has reported on its website that Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) have rejected their settlement offer (detailed in the last post, which I can hear playing faintly in the distance). Although SNG/Alinghi themselves have issued nothing, there are stories of a press conference to be held at some stage…

Meanwhile, rumour control is buzzing with what this might mean – according to an interview with Brad Butterworth on NewstalkZB in NZ, on Sunday (transcribed onto 2007Ac.com’s forum with a short story on the NewstalkZB site, and the audio itself on Scuttlebutt), it looks like Alinghi’s response to an Oracle court case win could be to race in cats. But there are plenty of other issues bubbling, like Oracle’s occupation of their Valencia shorebase, now that Alinghi’s ultimatum has passed without the lawsuit being withdrawn. Not to mention Russell Coutts’ accusation in the most recent GGYC release that SNG want to postpone the event (till 2011 to avoid a clash with the World Cup according to Butterworth) for commercial reasons – namely there aren’t enough teams, or sponsors – and SNG is trying to scapegoat GGYC.

I think you can expect more fur to fly over the coming few days…


Mark Chisnell ©

Or an Ace?

Barely were the electronic dipoles lined up on Google's servers for the last story, when what might be an ace came fizzing back over the net towards Alinghi and the Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) (ok, ok... I promise, enough with the tennis metaphor already).

The Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) have sent a final, all-points-covered-no-further-argument settlement offer to SNG, which the accompanying press release says has the backing of a majority (four, I think we can guess who's missing) of the Challengers. The deadline is the same as SNG's earlier demand for GGYC to drop the lawsuit - end of play today. And now we all know exactly what SNG/Alinghi are being asked to do, for GGYC to fold their hand on the court action.

In particular, the demand for two-boat testing has been dropped, which had previously been cited as the real deal breaker by Alinghi. And to an outsider observer, it's hard to see what's in this document that Alinghi can't agree to.... but have a look and see what you think. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking...


Mark Chisnell ©


The ball has been flying back and forth across the net in the last couple of days (to lean heavily on my already overused metaphor). As you might have seen from the comments at the end of the last post, Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) and Alinghi responded pretty quickly to salvoes from Oracle and the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) in an interview with their lawyer, Lucien Masmejan, posted on their own website.

Masmejan stated, amongst other things, that the GGYC had decided at a late stage in the negotiations that they now wanted to reinstate two-boat testing. Unfortunately for Lucien, this issue appears to have been on the table for a while, and GGYC promptly posted an October letter to Alinghi to make the point.

Next came an interview with Hamish Ross, Alinghi’s general counsel, on Sail-World, where he pushed the idea that Oracle kept shifting the goalposts of the negotiations. To which Tom Ehman responded that Alinghi had just issued some pretty major new rules with the Competition Regulations (also check out Tom Schnackenberg explaining them here), and Oracle had been invited by Alinghi to comment.

The latest that I’ve seen is an interview on BYM with Lucien Masmejan, but I’m sure there will be more - it won’t be deuce for long. But I suspect some of these shots are being played with plenty of spin, in an effort to deflect blame over the way this whole thing continues to unfold...

I think most people have long ago made up their minds, and this to and fro is largely a sideshow to the main event – the court decision. That’s when things will get lively again. What will Alinghi do if they lose - call Oracle's bluff and sail in the cats, restart negotiations - or appeal? And if they win, will they try to shut Oracle out of the 33rd Cup altogether?


Mark Chisnell ©