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 ©

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 ©

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 ©