Friday, 31 August 2007

Turning the Gas Up...

If anyone thought that the presence in Copenhagen, Denmark (at the Farr 40 Worlds) of major players from both sides of the Alinghi v Oracle divide meant an opportunity for negotiation and conciliation, they will have to think again. This piece from Stuart Alexander's fine blogspot...

'By the way, there has already been an angry confrontation in the not so wonderful city of Copenhagen. It has been cold and miserable for the Farr 40 worlds, but some heat was injected from outside when Ernesto Bertarelli’s Alinghi asked that the chairman of the jury, Tom Ehman, should step down. As Ehman is at the centre of the litigation by GGYC, at the behest of BMW Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Alinghi, as a competitor, felt there could be some conflict of interest.

Ehman did not step down, doubtless because he thought that his four co-jurors would never allow themselves to be manipulated in what could be seen as vindictive behavour. But Bertarelli’s skipper, Brad Butterworth, is incensed and has written to the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) with a formal complaint.'

Time for another weary sigh?

I should also point you in the direction of a Q&A with America’s Cup Management's (ACM) Chief Operating Officer, Michel Hodara in the Scuttlebutt for 31st August.

'Q: By the defender participating in the challenger trials (per the Protocol of the 33rd event), is it not possible that the defender may influence the ultimate outcome of the challenger trials? Given that the threat of elimination does not exist for the defender, it would seem conceivable that the defender may choose to lose to a lesser team, which might help this team advance past a stronger challenger that could ultimately pose a problem for the defender in the America's Cup. At the very least, the participation of the defender does open the door for this type of concern.'

'MH: In order to reduce costs, it has been decided to impose to sail only one boat at a time. Therefore, it was reasonable that the Defender could take part in the Challenger series, otherwise, the Defender would have no opportunity to race an opponent while the challengers raced in the Challenger Series.'

Which is as fine a job of not answering the question as I've heard from any politician in recent years. If I'd paid more attention in my freshman Logic 101 classes (was it my fault they were scheduled at siesta time?) I could probably give you the technical name for this kind of flawed argument. But suffice to point out that perhaps the conclusion should be that the problem is with the one boat rule - since it's clearly not reasonable that the Defender can have an impact on the outcome of the Challenger trials, as Michel Hodara's answer seems to accept.

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Mark Chisnell ©

Thursday, 30 August 2007

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…

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Mark Chisnell ©

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Taking it Seriously...

After Friday's post I got another Kiwi tip-off about an interesting interview with Michel Hodara, the CEO of America's Cup Management (ACM), on BYM News. And he says ACM are taking the GGYC court challenge seriously. This is what Hodara had to say about the court action:

'Yes, Golden Gate omitted a very important date from the Media Backgrounder that was issued a few days ago and has created a wrong impression of what happened on August 22nd. The date it failed to mention, under the heading "2007 Timeline" was August 17.

'Although the GGYC filed suit in the Supreme Court for the State of New York, on July 20, Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) was not served with the papers until August 17. The response to those papers was scheduled to be answered by mid-September and SNG was working on responding by then. However, just 5 days later, GGYC went into court and asked for the time scale to be accelerated. They want it accelerated for the original suit and they also want to know from SNG the racing rules and the location for the multihull challenge they claim for.

'All that happened in court, on August 22, was that the court set a date for hearing whether there is reason to accelerate things. SNG has to reply by September 5 and the hearing will be on September 10. This was not a victory for GGYC, as the impression has been given. Nothing was decided, the court has not taken any position whatsoever, it has just set a date for a hearing and nobody knows what will happen on the date. The court may agree to the request to accelerate, or it may not.'

So, that sets me straight about whether or not ACM are up for this...

I'd urge you to read the whole interview as this is a more thoughtful and temperate response to the current circumstances than the statement ACM put out in response to the court order - which is a pity. In my very first blog on the new Protocol for the 33rd Cup I was willing to give ACM the benefit of the doubt over what appeared to be a very one-sided document. Since then, public opinion seems to have largely hardened against ACM, and backed the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC)/Oracle challenge to the Protocol. Not least because ACM have refused to recognise that people have legitimate concerns with the document, or even explain their reasons for the controversial clauses - perhaps Mr Hodara should be given the stage more often. Now, if he could just come up with a conciliatory tone and a willingness to negotiate, we might be getting somewhere.

Just one point about the rest of the interview - Hodara talks about the verticality of football as being an aspiration for the America's Cup. Meaning that there are people interested in football from all stratas of society. But football's verticality exists because every single one of the six billion or so punters on this planet has the opportunity to kick a football/tennis ball/tin can around a pitch/street/beach and knows what it means and what it takes to good, bad or indifferent at it.

The same cannot be said of sailing - and that truth will not be changed by bringing mainstream sponsors into the America's Cup, it will be changed by giving kids everywhere and in all walks of life a chance to experience sailing. And I don't see too many people in the Cup doing much about fixing that...

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Mark Chisnell ©

Friday, 24 August 2007

Wake Up Call

So there were a couple of developments in the America’s Cup this week, neither of which had much to do with yacht racing. The Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) announced that the Supreme Court of the State of New York had granted them an order, ‘requiring the Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) to promptly answer a request to speed up the legal process for resolving its proposed new rules for defending the next America’s Cup.’

You can read the full text of the statement from the GGYC here, but as far as I can see, this is a wake up call for Alinghi. The court is telling them to take the GGYC challenge seriously, and that they have to turn up in New York and explain themselves.

The response from SNG/Alinghi came hot on the heels of the court order, with a statement they issued to the media. I’ll have to give you this one in full, as I can’t find it on any ACM/Alinghi site to link to…

'ACM STATEMENT

Response to official filing of Legal Proceedings by Golden Gate Yacht Club 23 August 2007

The Société Nautique de Genève, Alinghi and America’s Cup Management are very disappointed that BMW Oracle Racing, through the Golden Gate Yacht Club, has followed through with its threat and officially filed legal proceedings in the New York Courts.

“ACM in good faith has proposed a protocol intended to advance the sport of America’s Cup sailing. Far from being an attempt to control everything, the new protocol has been written to make the 33rd America’s Cup even better: a new class of boat which brings the technology to state-of-the-art, exciting racing and an even higher profile and more professional event which befits the premier competition in sailing, “ said Michel Bonnefous, President ACM.

“Our vision is to make the America’s Cup in 2009 comparable with the best sporting events in the World. This vision is shared by many Challengers from around the world, four of whom have now formally entered the competition, with others about to do so.

“Larry Ellison is holding the Cup to ransom for competitive gain by attempting to disrupt the preparations of the teams from Switzerland, Spain, South Africa, Great Britain and New Zealand, as well as many others who have notified of their intention to enter the competition shortly.”

“Ellison lost on the water in 2003 and in 2007, failing to secure a match for the America’s Cup,” said Brad Butterworth, Skipper, Alinghi, “He is now pretending to be the good guy, representing the interests of all stakeholders, whereas in reality they have gone to court to force an earlier private match on their terms without the involvement of other competitors.”

“While their legal teams are busy destabilising the 33rd Cup and the preparations of the existing challengers, they are simultaneously snapping up sailors left, right and centre. These underhand tactics make it particularly hard for the smaller teams who rely on sponsorship, which is very hard to secure under these circumstances, and shows disregard for all the legitimate competitors.'

The cat-o-meter seems to be swinging inexorably towards a race in twin-hulled ninety footers next year. I was a bit surprised to see Brad continuing to be so forthright, given that his long-time compadre Russell Coutts is on the other side of the fence at GGYC/Oracle. Perhaps this prior relationship could have opened a channel of communication and hence to negotiation. But then again, Bertarelli doesn't have much of a record for listening to his sailing lieutenants when it comes to the big issues (as Russell discovered just prior to his departure from the team) and Brad figures he's already chosen his horse...

A couple of other points. The nice man at the Valencia Sailing blog has figured out how to follow the court case blow by blow. Head to the New York State Unified Court System website at this address:

https://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/webcivil/FCASSearch?param=I

(I haven’t created a link for you, as it tells you on page one of the website not to do so without specific permission from the court. I figured that this permission could take a while to get, and if there’s one authority I’m not about to mess with, it’s the New York State court system.)

Once you get there, you have to fill in the question at the bottom of the page, and that will take you to a search facility where you can enter the GGYC’s case index number: 602446/2007. If you do so, you’ll discover that the next hearing is on the 10th September at 2pm, and that SNG have not yet listed any legal representation - which does kind of indicate that they've been ignoring the whole thing and hoping it will go away.... It won't.

In the meantime, several other potential Challengers continue to press ahead. Team Origin will be presenting their team to the public at the Southampton Boat Show at 11pm on Friday 14th September. And I can’t help thinking that John Kostecki’s resignation from the Volvo Ocean Race’s Ericsson Team has something to do with an alternative offer of employment from an America’s Cup team.

On the one hand, it doesn’t do the Volvo any good to be losing marque names like Kostecki from the event. But on the other, with Kostecki returning with another early starting campaign, after blitzing the fleet in illbruck in 2001-02, it did feel like he’d already won it. His absence opens things out a little, although Ericsson still have a formidable advantage in resource and time.

Richard Gladwell at sail-world.com reckons that the challengers can press on regardless, as the outcome of the court action is completely neutral to them – because both Alinghi and Oracle intend to hold a Cup in 2009 in Valencia, and in 90 footers. But I thought Oracle had backed the Mascalzone proposals which state that the next Cup should use the V5 rule (from 2007), while planning a new boat for the following event. The type of boat is pretty fundamental to a Cup team's preparations, and it would seem that this would limit the amount of work anyone can do.

Richard also assumes that all the court action can be completed with a clear outcome and no outstanding appeals in time for a 2009 event. But GGYC reckon we could have a legal resolution as early as October this year, which would be before the 90 footer rule has even been released by Alinghi. And so, for a while at least, most challenging teams can be pushing ahead with planning and signing personnel, in the hope that by the time they really need to start doing something, things will be clearer.

Meanwhile, whatever happens, ACM/Alinghi are covering themselves - there’s a clause in the Notice of Entry on the event website that states:

“The [ Club ] and the [ Representative – syndicate ] each understand that AC Management and SNG cannot be responsible for any losses incurred by [ Club ] and/or [ Representative – syndicate ] as a result from GGYC's actions.”

And finally, I couldn’t not mention the awesome performance from Skandia Team GBR at the Pre-Olympic event in Qingdao. The breeze finally turned up for both the medal race days (so it is possible to get wind in Qingdao) and the Brits waltzed off with five golds (Bryony Shaw, RS:X; Ben Ainslie, Finn; Stevie Morrison/Ben Rhodes, 49er; Paul Goodison, Laser; Sarah Ayton/Sarah Webb/Pippa Wilson, Yngling) and a silver (Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield, 470). It would be staggering to see it repeated next year, but you never know…

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Mark Chisnell ©

Monday, 20 August 2007

Zzzzzz

Nothing much doing on the America’s Cup front this week. I guess it’s August and holiday time, but even in the Southern winter the New Zealand Herald hasn’t managed to come up with a story since the 7th August. There is a big article about Team Origin in the Times Online, but as it doesn’t even mention the current issues over the Protocol, I think we can safely ignore it. So has everyone just gone on holiday, or have Oracle and Alinghi traded their public dispute for backstage negotiating in smoke-free (these days) rooms? Let’s hope it’s the latter.

One piece of news was a report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that Jochen Schuemann had left Alinghi and was now shopping for a new team. It remains to be seen whether United Internet Team Germany (UITG) will achieve their ambition of hiring him. UITG skipper, Karol Jablonski has told German Yacht magazine that they’ve made Schuemann an offer. But perhaps Schuemann will try to put together his own German challenge? Just like buses, nothing for ages and then two come along at once…

Elsewhere, it turned out that the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) did the right thing in postponing the start of the Fastnet Race. It got pretty ugly out there and of the three hundred entries, 271 made the delayed start but only 51 finished. It was a record breaking year for Mike Slade’s new ICAP Leopard, the thirty metre canting keel maxi completed the course in an elapsed time of 44 hours and 18 minutes, which beat Ross Field’s former record by 8 hours 50 minutes.

By all accounts, ICAP Leopard had a bit on, they lost a genoa out of the foil off Portland Bill, and then halfway to the Rock they hit a shark, which got itself stuck on the rudder and was only freed by a man going overboard. So much for those Sun tabloid stories about killer sharks off the coast of Cornwall, should have been the other way around...

George David’s 90-foot Rambler, a non-canting keel maxi skippered by Ken Read, was only 45 minutes behind Leopard. It was a great effort by Read and company, they are using the boat as a training ride for the Volvo Ocean Race entry, Puma. But they had to settle for second overall, about two and a half hours behind Fastnet winner, Ger O'Rourke's Cookson 50, Chieftain.

The Fastnet was also doubling as official prologue to the non-stop double-handed Barcelona World Race – and the IMOCA 60s were led home by race favourites Vincent Riou (Vendee Globe winner in 2004) and Seb Josse (ABN AMRO2 skipper). The pair set a new 60 record, beating the time set by Catherine Chabaud on Whirlpool in 1999 by just over three hours. Alex Thompson and Andrew Cape on Hugo Boss, and Jeremie Beyou and Signey Gavignet on Delta Dore, were also inside the old record.

There were plenty of retirements amongst the 60s as well, including Guillermo Altadill and Jonathan McKee. They bailed out just over three hours after the start, with keel electronics problems aboard Estrella Damm. They returned to Cowes, fixed it and have since departed for Barcelona to do the qualifying miles for the main event.

And finally, the other big regatta going on at the moment is the Pre-Olympic event in Qingdao. I tried to pull up the latest results, but the website is rubbish. Last time it successfully loaded, the Brits were gold in four classes; Bryony Shaw in the RS:X, Paul Goodison in the Laser, Sarahs Ayton and Webb and Pippa Wilson in the Yngling – and, of course, Ben Ainslie with a ten point lead in the Finn. Wouldn’t that just wind you up something chronic? You’ve just spent the last year busting your balls in the boat, only for Ben to step back in after 12 months America’s Cupping and sail to a brace of bullets and seconds?

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Mark Chisnell ©

Monday, 13 August 2007

Back at the Desk…

So nil points for my efforts at multi-tasking, I can sail or blog, but apparently not both…

There have been a couple of America’s Cup headlines in the past ten days, most notably the graceful retirement of Prada boss Patrizio Bertelli and his Luna Rossa team from the field of battle. After three Cup campaigns - which included winning the Louis Vuitton in 2000, making the semi-final in 2003 and the final in 2007 - Bertelli has decided he’s had enough. He stated simply that, ‘Participation in the next America's Cup was carefully analyzed, and while significant human and financial resources are already available, it was decided that, after three campaigns, a cycle had come to an end.’

Not particularly surprising, given the uncertainty levels surrounding the Cup – rather like world stock markets. Up or down? You pays your money and you makes your choice…

The times they are a changing - with Louis Vuitton and Prada gone, dominant brands from the last decade or two of the Cup, the next event is going to be different, however it plays out. The Swedish Victory Challenge seems equally underwhelmed by the current stand-off. They have sided with Vincenzo Onorato’s proposals (mentioned in the last blog - Russell Coutts subsequently commented that Oracle would withdraw their court action if Onorato's suggestions were followed). While Victory's Bert Willborg said, ‘We applaud Vincenzo Onorato’s initiative. Not only do we applaud his initiative, but we whole heartedly endorse what he has said in his statement.’

So in the blue corner, we have Victory and Mascalzone lined up loosely with Oracle in an effort to change the Alinghi Protocol. And in the red corner we have Desafio Espanol, Team Shosholoza, Team Origin and Team New Zealand lined up with Alinghi, having entered under the aforementioned, disputed Protocol. Leaning towards the red corner are United Internet Team Germany, who reconfirmed their intention to be there in 2009 - or whenever it might be – although they don’t appear to have gone so far as actually entering. They are also making noises about trying to hire Alinghi’s Olympic gold-medalist Jochen Schuemann. But there wasn’t any word on the fate of the Version 5 yacht that they’ve started to build…

Downer…

ACM/Alinghi have already crushed any notion of taking Vincenzo Onorato’s proposals seriously, ‘We have no intention of going back (on decisions that have been taken),’ Michel Hodara (the chief operating officer of ACM) told AFP.

Upper…

I can find one slim sign of hope… the much-trailed injunction that the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) and Oracle were supposed to be filing with the New York State Supreme Court (to prevent Alinghi from continuing to organize the 33rd America’s Cup while the GGYC court challenge was undecided) appears to be on hold. Is this a sign that there is finally some negotiating going on in the background?

Keeping Up…

If you’re struggling to keep up with the moves to date, those nice Scuttlebutt people have posted a PDF that you can download with a schedule of events so far, and an analysis of the way the legal moves might play out. It seems like a pretty solid review to me – the central point being that if it goes to court, it will come down to whether or not the Challenger of Record, Club Nautico Espanol de Vela (CNEV), is a yacht club under the Deed of Gift. There're also some thoughts on how the teams might react strategically (along with some dodgy history and semantics), from another anonymous contributor to an earlier blog. Come on dudes, I stick my name on it...

And Finally…

Then there was the Valencia Sailing blog sponsored rumour that Dean Barker was talking to Russell Coutts, Oracle’s CEO, about a job on the wheel with the US team. Given Barker and Coutts long association, stretching back through their time at TNZ, it’s not hard to see that Russell might talk to Dean about it. But the Kiwis stomped on the idea quicker than a fox going for the throat in a chicken coop. Although, since Jimmy Spithill was out of a job as of a week ago (when Luna Rossa pulled the plug), I guess we don’t have to look too far to see where Oracle might go for helming talent if they can’t get Barker…

Fastnet Race

The Fastnet started a day late this morning, and as I type this, it’s still forecast to be blowing dogs off chains in the Irish Sea come Tuesday/Wednesday. It seemed like a sound call to me, keeping the bulk of the fleet and the smaller boats the safe side of Land’s End until the forecast has a chance to harden into reality, or not…

As for the Open 60s, racing in the official Prologue for the Barcelona World Race, they’ve got a bit on. But according to the race tracker on the official website, Jonathan McKee and Guillermo Altadill in Estrella Damm had turned back just after clearing the Solent. I guess the reason why will become apparent in due course, but added to the dismasting of Pindar during Cowes Week’s Round the Island race, it doesn’t bode well for this new generation of 60s…

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Mark Chisnell ©

Friday, 3 August 2007

A Quiet Week...

It’s all quiet on the legal front in the America’s Cup this week. As I understand it, Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) and Alinghi have 30 days to respond to the Golden Gate Yacht Club’s filing with the New York State Supreme Court. So we’re on hold for a bit in the court war…

Meanwhile, there are rumours of more teams signing up for Alinghi’s next Cup, a couple of stories going around this morning include one out of the fevered pro-sail-fest that is the Copa del Ray in Palma. Both the Valencia Sailing blog and Marian Martin in BYM News are reporting that a second Spanish challenge is forming.

The BYM News story has more details, saying that the mover and shaker is Pedro Perello, who is currently racing the TP52 Siemens with Paul Cayard. Unsurprisingly, Cayard is slated as skipper, with Juan K being mentioned as designer. So that’ll be the third or the fourth team that the Argentinian will be working for in this Cup cycle…? I guess it’s all pretty speculative at this stage, but the campaign has a putative budget of 100 million Euros.

There’s also a story about an Australian Challenge – the Aussies have missed the previous two Cups, their last entry being the horribly underfunded affair that launched Jimmy Spithill and his mates on to the scene in Auckland in 2000. The story has it that there will be an announcement in September, which is the 24th anniversary of Australia II’s victory in Newport.

Elsewhere, Rex Gilfillan has once again given me the heads up, this time on a statement from Vincenzo Onorato of Mascalzone Latino, outlining a sensible path forward - although I fear that it's already gone too far for any kind of conciliatory negotiating type stuff.

The New Zealand Herald certainly think so, they have published a piece saying that Oracle are already designing that 90 foot catamaran. All that work that Russell's done on those 70 footers for the World Sailing League is coming in useful anyway...

Anonymous asked in a comment:

‘Excuse my ignorance, but will teams be allowed to tune up with each other? In that case will we see the likes of Oracle funding two separate entries (under different names) so that they can spend time two boat tuning?’

The short answer is no - the only time anyone will be allowed to line up against another Cup boat is in official racing organized by ACM. But with everyone in Valencia and sailing around on the same piece of water, I don't know quite how this is going to be policed. Maybe ACM will organize some Valencian ‘line-up marshalls’ who’ll buzz around and ping anyone who gets too close to another boat for too long…

So I’m off to Cowes Week for my annual regatta on an arm of the sea, and if I get out of the beer tent and back to the computer in time, I might even bring you some news of the Solent’s annual sail frenzy. But don't count on it. And yes, I know, I still haven’t sorted out the links - one day this blog will look like everyone else's, but not just yet...

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Mark Chisnell ©