Friday, 25 April 2008

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.

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Friday, 4 April 2008

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…

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©