Sunday, 16 December 2007

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 ©

Monday, 10 December 2007

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 ©

Sunday, 2 December 2007

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’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 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 ©