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 ©

Getting Down to Business...

The Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) have posted on their website some of the documents that they've brought before Justice Herman Cahn and the New York State Supreme Court, in support of their case against Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) and ACM/Alinghi.

One of them is an affidavit by Tom Ehman - Tom Ehman is Head of External Affairs for Oracle, but was probably better known on this interweb-thingy as the BOB blogger.

The other document is a Memorandum of Law, in support of GGYC's motion for preliminary injunction and expedited trial and discovery - whatever that means. These appear to be the documents that GGYC presented to the court on the 22nd August, which were mentioned in the previous couple of blogs.

I'm starting to feel that this is a good time to tag out of the America's Cup blogging business and leave it to the lawyers. There're fifty odd pages in these two documents, and I've quite possibly got better things to do than read it all. Maybe it's time to go sailing and wait till the court has settled this one. But if GGYC's request to have the hearing in October is granted (and I think we'll know that on September 10th or soon after), it may not be that long to wait...

Elsewhere, there are continued rumours about a second Spanish challenge, organized by Pedro Perello, director of the Transpac 52 Siemens. The Valencia Life Network has posted a story saying that King Juan Carlos has backed the second challenge, which will apparently take over the Luna Rossa base, have Paul Cayard picking the crew, and Juan Kouyoumdjian designing – while Juan K said in an interview with the Valencia Sailing blogspot that he’d been approached by five different teams…


Mark Chisnell ©