Wednesday, 28 November 2007

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?

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Mark Chisnell ©

Thursday, 22 November 2007

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...

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Sunday, 18 November 2007

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…

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Friday, 16 November 2007

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...

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Mark Chisnell ©

Deuce...?

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?

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Mark Chisnell ©

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

The End Game?

It appears we might be reaching the beginning of the end, with a press release issued by America’s Cup Management (ACM) on 13th November. The first part was pretty uncontroversial, announcing the release of the Event Regulations. These are the final part of the rules that will govern the 33rd America’s Cup, under the Protocol announced by Alinghi and the Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) back in July (feels a lot longer…).

The Event Regulations cover the commercial basis of the event, and include a deadline for entry, the 15th December – the entry fees and performance bond add up to a million Euros, which should separate the men from the boys.

So far so good, it’s the final paragraphs that smack of an ultimatum…

All the elements required to proceed with a successful competition in 2009 are now in place, and have the support of the Challenger of Record and all the existing competitors. However, the possibility of a race for the Cup in 2009 is impaired because of the negative effects that Golden Gate Yacht Club's (GGYC) lawsuit is having on sponsors and other arrangements for the Event.

The Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) has therefore required GGYC to withdraw its lawsuit by November 16 at 1700 hours, New York time, and to clarify its position with regard to its participation in the 33rd America's Cup.

Right…

The response from the GGYC was swift and pointed, saying that Alinghi had called off the talks that might have produced a negotiated settlement ahead of the court case. Tom Ehman was quoted as saying for GGYC…

This is highly surprising and disappointing. We had accepted assurances from challengers that the new design rule was fair and we were confident yesterday that other outstanding points were well on their way to being resolved in a way that was good for everyone.

‘We offered to drop our legal challenge in return for Alinghi making the agreed changes to the rules. The other challengers have been very helpful in getting us to what we thought was virtual agreement.

‘But only hours later, Ernesto Bertarelli’s lawyer, Lucien Masmejan, called to say they would not proceed with the settlement.

‘We hope they will reconsider their position, and we remain open to further discussions before a court ruling that could come any day.

Just as entertaining is the private exchange of letters ahead of these public pronouncements, which the GGYC have kindly posted on their website. First up, SNG/Alinghi’s letter to the Golden Gate, saying much the same thing as the press release – enter and drop the lawsuit, or … umm, well, actually there was no ‘or’...

Then GGYC/Oracle’s response, which says that SNG must have known GGYC would reject this ultimatum - as they have rejected all the others - and so GGYC conclude that SNG want the court case to proceed, and have given up on racing an America’s Cup in 2009. The letter offers to continue the negotiations...

So, there you have it – what does it all mean? Justice Cahn is the man with all the cards…

Meanwhile, United Internet Team Germany (UITG) have been hiring sailors. And Team Shosholoza have announced a new designer, Alex Simonis (best known for 90 footer Nicorette, line honours winner in the 2004 Sydney-Hobart), to replace Jason Ker, who had previously decamped for UITG…

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Mark Chisnell ©

Friday, 9 November 2007

Cup Rules Announced… Maybe

Into the uncertain atmosphere over Société Nautique de Genève’s (SNG) Protocol for the 33rd America’s Cup (under challenge from the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) in the New York State Supreme Court) America’s Cup Management (ACM), the body charged by SNG with running the regatta, yesterday launched the Competition Regulations.

The press conference in Barcelona introduced the event format and schedule, the dates for the Trials and the America's Cup Match, along with more on the AC90 – the new boat. We’ve already written about this, and there’s a good interview with Tom Schnackenberg, the man charged with bringing the new boat to life, at BYM News on how some of the parameters came about.

One added detail is that the crew weight limit has been removed because the new boats are so powered up – perhaps that will give all those heavier sailors disenfranchised from the current Olympic slate (which doesn’t include any keelboats) something to do…

As expected, the new rules attempt to outlaw two-boat testing, by forbidding AC90 boats from sailing alongside each other outside the events and formal ‘practise’ racing, which will be organised, apparently on-demand, by the regatta director. There are also rules excluding the sailing of ‘surrogate’ boats, in an effort to block expensive work-arounds/loopholes, and no-sail periods when the boats can’t be used at all. Returning are measures we’ve seen before like sail limitations, a 50% limit on modifications to an AC90 hull, and this time there will be no shrouding allowed at any time.

ACM are sticking with the much derided plan for the Defender to sail in the Challenger trials, and the format seems to have been designed to try and remove any influence they might have (by throwing races) over the outcome. I’ve got three words for what they’ve come up with; Cricket. World. Cup. Here’s the plan from the official press release:

Acts

End of June/ July 2008: Act 1, in Valencia (fleet & match race in ACC V5 yachts)

September 2008: Act 2, location in Europe tbc (fleet & match race in ACC V5 yachts)

April 2009: Act 3, in Valencia in AC90 (fleet race) (tbc)

Results from the Acts do not carry forward into the Trials. However, aside from the exposure and prestige gained, there are bonuses with regards to sail allocation for 2009. If teams compete in the 2008 Acts, they gain five sails on top of their 45 sail allocation for 2009. The overall winner of the 2008 Acts gains an additional two sails and the second placed competitor gains one extra sail.

Trials

Round Robins 1 and 2

Starting on May 2nd 2009, they will result in a ranking that includes all Challengers and Alinghi. The six top ranked teams proceed into the Semi Final. The remaining teams proceed into a parallel fleet racing event called the 'Challenger Sail Off', the results of which go towards the final ranking and therefore the net surplus distribution.

Semi Final

May/June 2009: Three Rounds of the Semi Final (between the top six teams of the Round Robins) will result in a Challenger ranking. Number 1 in the ranking goes straight to the Challenger Selection Final, whilst there will be a Repechage between the 2nd and 3rd placed Challengers. Alinghi moves to the parallel 'Secondary Series' at this stage.

Challenger Selection Series

The Challenger Selection Series starts in late June 2009 with the Repechage. The winner of this goes on to meet the top ranked Challenger in a best-of-seven Challenger Selection Final in July. The winner of the Challenger Selection Final becomes the Challenger and goes on to meet Alinghi in the America's Cup Match on the 18 July 2009.

Concurrent with the Challenger Selection Final, Alinghi and the newly eliminated Challengers race two Round Robins of a parallel event called the 'Secondary Series'. Results from this determine the final ranking of these Challengers.

The 33rd America's Cup Match

Starting on 18 July 2009, the best Challenger will face the Defender in a best of nine match race series.

Got all that?

If you want to read the new rules for yourself – and bear in mind that the whole lot will likely go in the bin if Oracle win the court case – you can find a PDF here. But just from a quick read, I think I can already see some very expensive ways to get race crews more time on the water and in competition, and to seriously improve the quality of one-boat testing…

As you’d expect there’s plenty of analysis of this elsewhere on the web, I can point you to CupInfo.com who have posted the graphic of the format provided by ACM. And Richard Gladwell has done a great job of outlining the main points in a Sail-World story. While the Valencia Sailing blogspot has the press conference audio and a text blog of what was said.

And finally, CupinEurope is running a story about the Italian Challenge, Eolia finding their first sponsor in La Banca Intesa-Sanpaolo - a banking group involved as a minor sponsor for Luna Rossa last time. People still want to play the game, whatever the game turns out to be...

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Mark Chisnell ©

Monday, 5 November 2007

GGYC Respond…

In the last post, I commented that the ball was now in the Golden Gate Yacht Club’s (GGYC) court, as Alinghi had provided what they asked for, in the shape of the new Cup boat rule. That meant that GGYC were now in a position to decide whether or not Alinghi had got a headstart in the design process - one of their principal issues with the 33rd Protocol.

The ball promptly came thudding back across the net, as GGYC announced... thanks for the new rule – but how can we possibly decide if Alinghi have got a headstart in the design process if we don’t know what the boat looked like in Alinghi’s original proposal to the Challengers? GGYC now want to see Alinghi's first draft of the rule, to judge how far the final boat has evolved from what they started out with…

At the time of writing that ball was quietly thudding it’s way over the baseline at Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) and Alinghi, and heading down towards the grubby little corner of the fence where all the leaves, chip papers and McBurger wrappings gather (think municipal rather than yacht club tennis court), with no sign of a response...

So the pendulum swings back towards Justice Cahn and the New York State Supreme Court having the last word. Or maybe not, if Manuel Chirivella, President of the Challenger of Record, Club Náutico Español de Vela (CNEV), has anything to do with it. He announced at the weekend that they would be appealing if they lost the ruling in the court.

And if you follow that last link, you’ll find the always entertaining Kimball Livingston waiting for you with some other thoughts on a rather gob-smacking press conference given at the Barcelona Boat Show, in which CNEV also appeared to indicate that they thought Spanish law, rather than American, applied to the case - and that CNEV was simply a legal agreement to allow Desafio Espanol to become the Challenger or Record… I'm sure GGYC's lawyers will be interested in that.

So the date has just passed when the teams currently occupying a Valencia base have to indicate whether or not they want to stay on. The first feathers have already been ruffled. Cup in Europe has a story which indicates that the second Spanish syndicate has bought all the Luna Rossa assets and is now after the base as well - allowing them just to move in. Unfortunately, TeamOrigin have already baggsied first dibs on that one…

Meanwhile, the world’s design offices have been rushing to the nearest blog to give us their take on the new rule for the AC90 boat. Apart from the obvious fact that the new boats are bigger and a lot more powerful, the crucial difference between the old and the new is that the AC90 is a box rule – there is a fixed upper limit for all the main parameters; sail area, length, beam, displacement and so on. So teams won’t be trying to figure out how to balance these components into the right configuration for the venue/wind range they expect to sail in. Instead, the hull shape, within the confines of the box, is going to be where the design effort is focused. And then once they’ve figure that out, all the details of structure, layout, rig will come into play...

Bruce Farr and Britton Ward at Desafio Espanol gave the rule their blessing – but then as Challenger of Record, you’d hardly expect them to do an ‘IRM’ on it… The Valencia Sailing blogspot has got Schickler-Tagliapietra to take a look at the new rule. While Sail-World have had a chat with Brett Bakewell-White, who provides some comparisons with some of the supermaxis around. But we'll give the last word to Alinghi’s head design honcho, Rolf Vrolijk, who’s done a Q&A on the Alinghi website.

And just in case you hadn’t noticed, this blog is now feedburned - just click on the little orange logo (at the bottom of the menu choices in the left hand column) to get auto-updates whenever I drag my sorry arse back to the keyboard…

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Thursday, 1 November 2007

The New Boat...

America’s Cup Management (ACM) delivered on time yesterday with the issue of the rule for the new America’s Cup class, as required under their Protocol for the 33rd America’s Cup. The process, as we’ve reported previously, has been lead by Tom Schnackenberg, with input from the six challengers currently entered – and Alinghi.

The new boat is 90ft overall maximum length, 6.5m in draft when it’s racing, with a displacement of 23 tons and designed to a box rule. It was the displacement that the challengers were apparently allowed to set, to negate any prior knowledge of the rule that Alinghi might have had – and hopefully any headstart on the design process.

ACM issued a press release about all this, but more interestingly they also issued the rule itself. I don’t think anyone was expecting that, as ACM had previously made a big deal of withholding knowledge of the rule from anyone that hadn’t entered the 33rd America’s Cup, and therefore accepted all the other (disputed) conditions of the Protocol. But now the rule is out there, and the ball is definitely in the Golden Gate Yacht Club’s (GGYC) court.

GGYC, who, along with Oracle have led the attack in the New York State Supreme court on the 33rd Protocol, had previously issued a press release on the 25th October stating that, ‘The American team (Oracle) has told challengers it is ready to agree to wide ranging new proposals discussed over the last 24 hours if it can confirm for itself that the design rule developed by Alinghi is fair for all competitors.’

Well, now the rule is out there, we’ll all be expecting to hear from the GGYC next…

Meanwhile, the Spanish bloggers have been getting much exercised over the issue that’s pivotal to the court case – the credibility of the Challenger of Record, Club Nautico Español de Vela (CNEV). The Valencia Sailing blogspot has a nice story on efforts to join the aforementioned club - revealing that you can’t. While Scuttlebutt have translated a blog by Jaime Soler, who writes in Spanish, about the Notice of Race for the CNEV’s third attempt to hold an ‘annual regatta on an arm of the sea’ – one of the conditions for any challenging yacht club. It's not pretty...

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Mark Chisnell ©