Saturday, 20 October 2007

SailJuiceBlog.com is the New Address

The SailJuice Blog has moved to a new address, SailJuiceBlog.com

You might want to take a peek at my first post there, it's causing quite a stir...

Here's an excerpt:

"Olympic sailing is at a critical juncture. The IOC has handed ISAF the task of whittling down the existing 11 categories that will be represented at Qingdao 2008, down to just 10 for Weymouth 2012.

A game of musical chairs then.

An almighty blood bath, more likely. Have no doubt that this November in Estoril, Portugal, there will be more backstabbing going on than when Julius Caesar unwittingly strolled into the Roman Senate for the last time."


Read on for the rest...

Friday, 21 September 2007

Alinghi makes a peace offering

"Tell you what Larry. If we promise to make this America’s Cup game a bit fairer, can we not go to court? Please?"

That’s the short version of a peace offering made by Alinghi yesterday. If you want to read the long version from Alinghi, it’s published below.

This is a massive climb down from the Defender’s original position. Clearly the prospect of going to the New York Supreme Court in just less than a month is getting a little too real for comfort.

So thankfully, sense has finally prevailed. Alinghi have backed down in a number of key areas. Though it seems none will ever be brave enough to say it in public, the other ‘legitimate’ challengers have a good deal to thank Larry and the Golden Gate Yacht Club for, in helping to get the 33rd Cup back on track as a true sporting contest.

While questions remain over the CNEV’s legitimacy as a true Challenger of Record (one of the GGYC’s primary objections), I hope Larry and the San Franciscans accept this peace offer from the Swiss, so that business of designing, building and sailing can continue without further interruption.

Here are those protocol amendments in full. They’re well worth a read, because they serve as a reminder of just what overarching powers the Defender had bestowed upon itself.


With regards America’s Cup Management’s (ACM) power to disqualify a competitor, this has been clarified to say that, should a competitor refuse to be bound by the Protocol, then they will have recourse to the Arbitration Panel without risk of disqualification until the Panel rules.


Secondly with regards ACM’s right to refuse an entry. The amendment is a restriction of ACM’s ‘ability to reject’ to an ability only on very specific grounds, which are: failure to comply with the Deed of Gift, a capacity issue within Port America’s Cup or a need to provide an equitable balance of competing nations. The SNG has made it clear that, should the GGYC abandon their legal action, they would be welcomed as a competitor for the 33rd edition and could shape the event along with the other challengers and the Defender during the ongoing Competitor Commission meetings.

A further suggested amendment point, on recommendation from the Arbitration Panel, regards the power of ACM to amend the Protocol and other rules. This has been changed to state that ‘any proposal to make any Protocol changes, related to the way in which the Arbitration Panel works, must be subject to its prior approval.’

In addition to this amendment, the SNG and CNEV have deleted the power of ACM to remove members of the Arbitration Panel. [what??!! This one had passed me by. I can’t believe ACM ever had the power to do this in the first place! It casts a different light on the ruling made by the Arbitration Panel a couple of weeks ago. A case of, ‘well, they would say that, wouldn’t they’, with ACM’s sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.]

Finally, the concern regarding ‘neutral management’ has been amended to extend the Fair Sailing rule to apply to all matters directly related to the regatta.


Following these changes, Ernesto Bertarelli made his plea to the GGYC and Larry’s team: "I would again appeal to BMW Oracle Racing to enter the 33rd America’s Cup as a legitimate challenger. It has been demonstrated that dialogue is possible for the better of this event and it should be noted by them that many areas of their concerns have been addressed.

"We would also like BMW Oracle Racing to consider that their action is hindering the opportunity for other teams to enter the competition, and harming the ability of existing competitors to generate sponsorship income and properly plan their challenge."

So, the ball is back in Larry’s court. It will be interesting to see how he plays it. Here’s hoping he enjoys his victory from Alinghi’s climbdown, and withdraws his legal proceedings accordingly.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Alinghi denies a stitch-up

Some reassurances today from Brad Butterworth and Alinghi that they are not going to abuse their self-bestowed powers over the 33rd America's Cup to the extent that many of us have feared. There are certainly more questions that it would be good to get answers to, but today's statement is at least a step in the right direction. Enough to appease Larry Ellison though? I doubt it. Here is the Alinghi statement in full.

Earlier today, Alinghi, Defender of the 33rd America’s Cup, gave a progress report on preparations for the 33rd America’s Cup at the Société Nautique de Genève. This gathering marked the start of the 33rd America’s Cup campaign and a return to business after the August break. Brad Butterworth, team skipper was accompanied by Hamish Ross, general counsel and Michel Hodara representing America’s Cup Management.

The group announced several developments in the preparations for the 33rd America’s Cup. The first is that the design consultation period, due to start in mid September, will last for six weeks and will result in the definition of the class rule. The consultation will be facilitated by an expert consultant to ensure the views of all five challengers are represented. Secondly, Brad explained that the clear intention regarding the development of the rules is to have a “tight design box” in order to facilitate close racing.


“Our objective is to create a tight design box rule that will ensure the emphasis remains on sailing skill and exciting racing as we have recently seen during the 32nd America’s Cup, this together with large, visually impressive state-of-the- arts boats will help us achieve our vision for the next Cup,” he declared during the press briefing in Geneva. “We are keen to return the America’s Cup to the romantic era of J-Class size yachts, albeit updated with the very latest technology. This will create a superb spectacle and event for sailing fans worldwide.”

It was also announced that in the next few days there will be a Competitor Commission meeting to discuss the 33rd America’s Cup and elements of the Protocol, with the aim to mould this edition into an even greater success than its predecessor.

ACM also confirmed today that Valencia has been approved by the Spanish Council of Ministers and has now been officially ratified by all the Spanish Authorities for the 33rd America’s Cup. This completes all contractual proceedings regarding the venue for the Cup in 2009. ACM also confirmed that United Internet Team Germany has been officially accepted as the 5th challenger.

“Most of the team is now back from the summer break and we are pressing ahead with preparations for the next Cup in 2009, with a particular focus on developing the new class rule through consultation with the five confirmed challengers,” said Brad Butterworth, adding: “These new class rules will be released on 31st October 2007, 18 months before the first pre-regatta with the new boats, and two months earlier than initially planned.”

Brad took the opportunity to clarify and further explain aspects of the Protocol that have been misinterpreted over the summer period:

CLARIFICATION OF ELEMENTS OF THE 33rd PROTOCOL

It has been alleged that CNEV is a ‘sham’ and not a legitimate Challenger of Record?
A: The legitimacy of the CNEV is unquestionable. For the 32nd America’s Cup, Desafío Español represented the Spanish sailing community through the Federation and it was decided to create a new club that captured the essence of Spanish sailing. This new Club incorporates the America’s Cup spirit in Spain and is chaired by the Vice Chairman of the Spanish Sailing Federation. BMW Oracle Racing are attempting to undermine the challenge on two counts both of which are erroneous as there are several examples of clubs being formed specifically to challenge for the America’s Cup (including clubs from Australia, Japan, Germany, US and Canada) and of clubs holding regattas after submitting a challenge. Furthermore, the credibility of the Spanish Challenge is further underlined by the strong performance demonstrated during the 32nd America’s Cup with them advancing to the Semi Final.

What is the impact of the BMW Oracle Racing legal challenge?
This is a legal ambush by one party; the fact is we have six competitors, including Alinghi, lined up for the 33rd America’s Cup. It is a distraction for the America’s Cup and is totally self serving on their behalf. It is most damaging for teams that haven’t yet entered given that this climate of uncertainty created by the GGYC prevents them from gaining sponsorship and building their teams. The 32nd America’s Cup saw the best action on the water and that is what we want for the 33rd America’s Cup.

What is the reason that ACM can refuse an entry?
See AC 33 Protocol clauses 2.7 (d), 4.4
A: First of all a competitor has to fulfil the requirements of the Deed of Gift and the Protocol. Furthermore, ACM is the event organiser and this rule has been written because, as in other major sporting events, we have a limited number of entries available, however, if a potential entrant feels they have been unfairly treated there is recourse through the Arbitration Panel.

ACM can throw out any competitor at any time?
See Protocol clause 5.4 (b)(d)
A: No, ACM does not have the power to throw out a competitor at any time. ACM has the power to disqualify a competitor who refuses to be bound by the rules. Even in this extreme situation the competitor concerned would be entitled to appeal to the Arbitration Panel.
This is very similar to the obligations of any other global sporting event authority, including the IOC, FIFA and the FIA.

The officials are not independent?
See Protocol clause 5.4
A: The Protocol contains rules to ensure fair sailing and from a sporting perspective the 33rd America’s Cup will be no different to the 32nd. The key is what happens on the water and during the sailing competition will be in the hands of experienced officials, with a record of integrity, accredited by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF). The Challenger of Record can object to any senior (those with decision making powers) appointment if they believe the person is not neutral and the Sailing Jury will determine whether the appointment is neutral or not.

Why does ACM need the right to change the competition regulations from ‘time to time’?
See Protocol clause17
A: ACM administered the 32nd America’s Cup, arguably the best America’s Cup of all time and it needs the appropriate authority to run the 33rd edition. This is no different to any other global high tech sport where the governing body has to provide regular interpretations and clarification of sporting and technical rules in a dynamic environment.
The Challenger of Record or the Defender can object to significant changes and ACM could refer the proposed change to the Arbitration Panel.

The new Competitor Commission has no voting powers?
See Protocol clause 10.1
A: The Defender and ACM need to be in consultation with the challengers to ensure the next event is as good as possible and therefore it made sense to be present within this forum.
It should be noted that the Challenger Commission had no voting rights last time affecting the competition, only the power to recommend. The same applies to the Competitor Commission this time.

The late publication of the new class rules will not give the teams enough time and will provide Alinghi with an unfair advantage?
A: We have been thinking about changing the class since 2003, as a matter of fact Russell Coutts was a strong advocate for a new class of boat for the 32nd America’s Cup. The design team is now back and working after the summer break in preparation for the six week consultation period which starts in mid September. This consultation will lead to the definition of the new class rule which will then be released on 31 October 2007, 18 months before the first pre-regatta in the new boats, and two months earlier than initially planned. In order to facilitate the work during the consultation period and to ensure the views of all competitors are represented an appropriate expert consultant will be appointed to oversee the process.

How will the new class rules lead to ‘close and exciting’ racing?
A: It provides for all competitors to start at the same level. It is our intention to limit the parameters of the ‘design box’ for the new class as this will assist in achieving our vision of state of the art boats and competitive racing befitting of the premier event in international sailing.

Alinghi will gain unfair advantage through competing in the Challenger Selection Series (CSS)?
Our philosophy to reduce cost and encourage competition is to return to the concept of a one boat campaign per team for the 33rd AC. This is the best solution to actively reduce the costs by avoiding having to hire two full crews and produce and maintain two fully rigged boats. However at the same time the Defender needs to be able to gauge and develop its relative performance and therefore needs to be included in the series. The other choice was for the Defender to two boat test from the start of the campaign, which is expensive and less attractive from an entertainment point of view.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Nailbiting showdowns in Qingdao

Whatever has been said about the concept of the Medal Race - and it has taken plenty of stick over the past year - it threw up some incredibly nailbiting conclusions in the Olympic Test Regatta in Qingdao.

On the final day, Paul Goodison (photo courtesy of OnEdition) scored a lowly 7th out of 10 in the Laser Medal Race, just holding off the 8th placed boat by three seconds. Goodison clinched gold by a point - and those vital three seconds - from Sweden's Rasmus Myrgren.

On the previous day, Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes potentially through away their 49er gold medal when they hit the windward mark while lying in fourth. Taking a 360 penalty was the last thing they needed in 15 to 18 knots, and a washing machine chop driven by a wind-against-tide scenario. Fortunately that same washing machine chop was causing problems for a few of their rivals. Down the final run to the finish, the Brits took four places thanks to a few capsizes - although they had a full wobble on through their own final gybe - before crossing the line in 4th place. It was enough to give them gold, again by a single point from the Spanish reigning Olympic Champions, Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez.

Even Ben Ainslie had to rely on the misfortunes of others in the Finn finale. There were capsizes in that fleet too, not least Ivan Gaspic's final-gybe capsize just 200 metres from the finish. He could have won gold, but that capsize relegated the Croatian out of the medal zone altogether. He finished 4th overall.

It was a phenomenal performance by the Brits, even by their high standards. Five golds and one silver across 11 disciplines. Not too bad by the antipodeans either, with the Aussies scooping two golds, a silver and bronze; the Kiwis were third overall with one gold and two silvers. For the full medal table and a good wrap-up report, look at ISAF's website.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Handbags at dawn

An undignified response from ACM today, after the Golden Gate Yacht Club's shot across their bows yesterday. Sometimes it really is better to say nothing.

Here's one to start with. Michel Bonnefous claims the protocol is not "an attempt to control everything", although we've been offered no evidence to the contrary.

Interesting that there is no mention of the yacht club of convenience, Club Náutico Español de Vela (CNEV), in ACM's response, despite the CNEV's questionable status as a bone fide yacht club being one of the central tenets of the Americans' objections. You would have thought ACM might have taken this opportunity to leap to the Challenger of Record's defence. Because they're going to have to do that when they go to the New York Supreme Court. I hope BMW Oracle's lawyers have forgotten about that Optimist regatta from a couple of months back. Very embarrassing.

Also, an intriguing choice of words by Brad Butterworth in his concluding sentence, suggesting that BMW Oracle's "underhand tactics... shows disregards for all the legitimate competitors." Legitimate competitors. Hmmmm... Does this mean ACM will be invoking Clause 4.4 of the Protocol? "Acceptance of Challenging Competitors: ACM may, at its sole and entire discretion, accept or reject any entry received."

This is all getting very nasty. Can someone - maybe Peter Reggio, now that he's completed his tour of duty in Qingdao - organise a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors (sponsored by Louis Vuitton, for old time's sake) between Larry and Ernesto? It would save an awful lot of lawyers' fees, not to mention the dirty laundry that will be aired in public once this case hits New York.


Here's the ACM response in full:

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.”

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Brits & Aussies bag some breezy Pre-Olympic Medals

After a week of little or no wind, Qingdao finally came good for the first set of Medal Races today. With the breeze blowing a thankfully uncharacteristic 15-17 knots, it was a great day for the Brits, and a pretty good one for the Aussies too.

Despite a poor Medal Race for Ben Ainslie, the reigning Olympic Champion picked up right where he left off exactly a year ago, defending his Pre-Olympic title with relative ease. Ainslie went into the final with an 11-point lead over Croatian Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic, but found himself way down the fleet when he recrossed the start line thinking he had jumped the gun.

The Croatian at one stage managed to get enough places between him and the Ainslie to wrest the overall lead away from the Brit, but was overtaken on the final downwind leg and then capsized 100 metres from the finish line to end all hopes of a coup. Ainslie finished the medal race in seventh place but it was enough to hand him the gold – his second in Qingdao in what is his first Olympic classes regatta since the 2006 Test Event last August.

“I did a pretty good job of losing it out there today!” Ainslie admitted. “I had a terrible start but luckily I was able to dig deep and get back a few places. With it being only my first race in the Finn in a year I wasn’t really sure what to expect coming here, but I’ve been very happy with my performance this week. I’m sailing pretty well right now, but still have a great deal of room for improvement.”

Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes added Pre-Olympic gold to their World and European titles, although like Ainslie they too made a pretty good attempt at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The Exmouth duo were in eighth place and out of the medal positions when they rounded the windward mark for the final time in today’s medal race.

But on the final downwind leg they managed to pick up four places – with a little bit of help from several of their competitors who capsized – and finished the medal race in fourth place, which was enough to hand them the gold by one point, ahead of reigning Olympic Champions Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez.

“We had a rough day today – there was a lot of wind out there,” said Morrison. “Several teams capsized during the race, but we managed to hold on to take the overall lead. We’ve made a fair few mistakes in this competition, so are a little bit surprised that we came out on top, but it’s really great to have won back to back golds at major events, and hopefully this is a good sign ahead of the Olympics next year.”

Skandia Team GBR also grabbed gold in the Women's RS-X division, thanks to a superlative performance by Bryony Shaw, and it was silver in the Men's 470 for Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield. So, three golds and one silver for the Brits, and two more Brits in pole position for their Medal Races tomorrow. Australia took gold in both Men's and Women's 470 classes, and silver in the Tornado and bronze in the Women's RS-X. Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada surfed their way to victory in the Star class, earning a gold for Brazil.

No surprises in the Tornado, with light-wind experts and double Olympic Champions Roman Hagara and Hans-Peter Steinacher winning the cat class from Darren Bundock and Glenn Ashby. The Austrians will start as favourite for the Olympic title this time next year - IF they qualify for the Games. Finishing 20th in the recent windy Worlds in Cascais, they have yet to secure a spot in the Olympics for Austria. The Tornado Worlds in New Zealand early next year give them a final opportunity to qualify for Qingdao. It's unthinkable that they won't achieve that, but stranger things have happened at sea.

"Stop dragging your feet!" NY Court tells SNG

The Golden Gate Yacht Club have moved a step closer towards getting the America's Cup dispute with Alinghi heard in court. Here is the GGYC statement in full.

The Supreme Court of the State of New York today granted an order sought by the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) 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.

The San Francisco club sought the Court ruling alleging SNG is in serious breach of its fiduciary duty under the Deed of Gift that governs the Cup. It says SNG has accepted an invalid challenge from a sham yacht club, and is seeking to impose an unprecedented one-sided set of rules that hugely favor the defender to the detriment of all other competitors.

“We are very pleased with this ruling by the Court, because we believe the Cup will be irrevocably damaged if we don’t get SNG’s Protocol changed,” Tom Ehman, Head of External Affairs for BMW ORACLE Racing, the US club’s team, said.

“The new Protocol would give SNG’s team, Alinghi, radical new powers to control nearly all aspects of the event that are still unsupported by any explanation from SNG as to why they are needed,” he said.

Ehman said the syndicate whose challenge had been accepted by SNG, the Club Náutico Español de Vela (CNEV), was a shell organisation that had been formed only days prior to issuing a challenge and did not comply with the terms specified by the Deed of Gift.

“We would still prefer to negotiate a solution outside the court, but we see SNG as violating its responsibilities as Trustee, and we are fully prepared to go the legal distance if needed to stop the America’s Cup being subverted into a hopelessly one-sided event,” he said.

The Deed of Gift that protects the Cup as a perpetual sporting challenge is governed by a fiduciary trust established under New York law in 1887.

The GGYC court action also seeks a preliminary injunction to obtain critical information related to the club’s challenge under the Deed of Gift.

The American challenge is for a race next summer under the Deed’s 10-month rule. GGYC need to know where SNG intends to hold that competition and what the SNG sailing rules are. Under the Deed, the Swiss Defender is required to provide these important details to the Challenger.

GGYC filed a challenge on July 11th, and asserts that SNG must accept it. If successful in this motion, the GGYC case could be heard by the Courts as early as October 2007.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Epic Fastnet

This Rolex Fastnet Race bears more resemblance to a Rolex Sydney Hobart than your average Fastnet. Broken boats, masts, sails and limbs have led to a high attrition rate, with almost 200 of the 271 starters having retired.

All epic stuff, and a far cry from the Fastnet of two years ago, when the fleet drifted around in Mediterranean conditions that barely topped 4 knots – until the Friday that is – when the small boats trickled into Plymouth on new breeze and a little 33-footer from France, Iromiguy, won the race on handicap.

It’s hard to see that happening this time. The big boats have had a dream run, and congratulations to Mike Slade and his rockstar crew on ICAP Leopard who smashed the course record. The 100-foot canting keeler completed the 608 mile course in just one day, 20 hours, 18 minutes and 53 seconds. Beating the previous record by an incredible eight hours and 50 minutes, ICAP Leopard crossed the finish line just before 9am this morning.

With Neville Crichton pulling Alfa Romeo out of the race on the first day, due to a torn mainsail, Neville’s going to have to stump up £5000 to the Ellen MacArthur Trust for losing his friendly wager with Mike. Well done to both owners for keeping a sense of humour and perspective over their high-level racing. Maybe Larry and Ernesto could settle their differences with a similar friendly wager? Chance would be a fine thing…

Meanwhile, behind the few fast boats which are safely arrived in Plymouth, the smaller yachts face a much tougher battle in the Celtic Sea, as the breeze has turned northerly against those yet to round the Fastnet Lighthouse. The best of Irish luck to all of them.

If there’s wind blowing in one part of the world, I suppose that means there has to be a lack somewhere else. Well, almost half a world away in Qingdao, China, there was a distinct lack of breeze. This is exactly the scenario that has been feared for the Olympic venue, although every day for the past week has been sailable, including one day where it blew 10 to 15 knots. So maybe it could come good for the Olympic Test Regatta. Let’s hope so.

The Finn, Tornado, 49er and the 470 men’s and women’s classes made it out to their respective race courses, but the Star and RS:X men’s and women’s fleets were confined to shore as race officials waited to see if the wind would eventually appear. In the end, only the Finns and 470 Women got a result.

We’ll have to wait another day to see how Ben Ainslie slots back into the Finn, a boat he hasn’t raced since winning this regatta exactly a year ago. “We waited out on the water for about three hours,” Ainslie explained. “I think the race officer wanted to see what would happen when the tide turned. It was the right decision to send us back in, so we’ll just have to hope and try again tomorrow.

“If nothing else, it was good to be able to get out and practice some more while we were waiting, so I don’t think today was a complete waste of time.”

In the 49ers, reigning Olympic Champions Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez won the only race of the day, while in the Women’s 470, Australia’s young team Elise Rechichi and Tessa Parkinson got the bullet ahead of three-time World Champions from Holland, Marcelien de Koning and Lobke Berkhout.

Monday, 30 July 2007

A bugger’s muddle

Anything happen while I was away? Apologies for the lack of correspondence lately but I’ve been taking some post-Valencia holiday. I’ll really have to schedule my time better for the next Cup. After all, as we’ve discovered this time, when the side-show of the sailing has concluded you have at least another month of legalistic shenanigans and wheeling and dealing to get through.

This time, unfortunately, we’re looking at good deal longer than a month to unravel the mess created by the Protocol for the 33rd Cup. For a legal journalist this is probably about as exciting as it gets. For a sailing simpleton like me, this is all insufferably tedious. But it’s the America’s Cup, and it goes with the territory.

Ernesto Bertarelli and his gang came out shooting last week, taking pot shots at Larry Ellison’s plans to take the Defenders to the New York Supreme Court. As far as the Swiss billionaire is concerned, the matter should be dealt with in-house. “We have submitted this dispute, which is damaging to the entire sport, damaging to the America’s Cup, to our independent arbitration panel and we hope to have their resolution soon.”

Note the interesting choice of words there. “Our independent arbitration panel”. Oxymoron? Surely he meant to say “the independent arbitration panel”? There’s a big difference between the possessive “our” and the neutrality of “the”. Which perhaps says a lot about Alinghi’s sense of ownership of the Cup.

You can see why Larry has a problem with the Protocol, not least the Defender’s ability to appoint its own race officials. “No sports run officials like that,” said Larry. “Can you imagine Chelsea hiring the officials for the Manchester United game, but then also wanting the ability to change the rules at any time? It is the most bizarre Protocol we have ever seen.”

However, we have seen few – actually have we seen any? – public displays of support for Larry and the Golden Gate Yacht Club’s stance. The Americans claim they’ve had support from eight different challengers – and I could just about believe it. But public displays of support? None that I’m aware of. The Kiwis have been the latest to line up behind Alinghi, after Shosholoza and Team Origin. Apparently the Kiwis have been offered a sweetener of getting involved in helping Alinghi formulate the new design rule, giving them a vital few extra months of understanding of the new 90-footer rule before anyone else gets to see it. Richard Gladwell from Sail-World NZ has bagged a good interview with Dean Barker, which you’ll find here.

What of Alinghi’s announcement last week that each team will be permitted to build two race boats before the next Cup, but that teams will only be allowed to sail one at a time? Ernesto cited this as a cost saving exercise, which indeed it is, knocking a huge chunk off the wage bill if you can’t have two full sailing teams out race testing and training every day for two years.

Then again, it begs the question why Ernesto got in such a huff over Grant Dalton’s proposed nationality rule for the Cup had the Kiwis won it. Ernesto said way back in June: “If he was to win, that basically would put three-quarters of the people around this harbour out of work.” However, the new rules for the 33rd mean there is no need to have 34 sailors ready to man two boats. Now you’ll need just 20 or 21 to fill one of the new 90-foot beasts. So not everyone who was competing in 2007 is going to find room on board a boat in 2009.

Nevertheless, I like the one-sailing-team rule. The wage bill will be more affordable for the smaller teams. On the other hand - two boats to be built in less than 18 months? That’s definitely one for the big teams to enjoy.

Fellow blogger (and former America’s Cup navigator and electronics wizard) Mark Chisnell has an interesting analysis of this ‘two-boats-one-crew’ situation. He foresees a big step-up in instrumentation and telemetry programs to compensate for the lack of two-boat testing. In which case people like, well, er Mark Chisnell, will be in hot demand. Chizzy was too modest to put his own impressive CV forward on his blog, but no doubt his phone has already been ringing off the hook since Alinghi made their announcement last week.

Crikey! More than 500 words in, and I’ve neglected to mention a few other key facts, eg,

Venue: Valencia

Date: July 2009

Hooray to that. Great city, lovely people, and a two-year timescale. Full marks to Alinghi for time and location, and well done to the Spanish for securing the deal with a bargain basement price of just a sneeze over 100m Euro. Cheap at twice the price.

Oh yes, and the shock (not!) appointment of Russell Coutts to BMW Oracle Racing as, you guessed it, CEO of the whole shooting match. Now, Russell Coutts is not Chris Dickson, but you might have thought that for Larry it would be a case of once bitten, twice shy. Still, if you’re going to put that much power in one man’s hands, it might as well be Coutts. With Butterworth staying put as Alinghi skipper, this sets up an intriguing rivalry between these two great mates.

No one knows Coutts’s strengths better than his former tactician, so it will be interesting to see who gets the helmsman’s job this time at Alinghi. Who is best equipped to counter Coutts’s moves on the race course? My guess is that it will be an Australian. Either an old one – Peter Gilmour – whose latest victory in the Portugal leg of the World Match Race Tour suggests he’s still as good as any of the young guns. Or a young one – James Spithill – who negotiated with Alinghi last time but couldn’t reach an agreement over bringing his core of Aussie mates with him.

The day after winning the 32nd, when I asked Butterworth who else he rated from the last Cup, another name he singled out was Jes Gram Hansen from Mascalzone Latino. Perhaps the underrated Dane will get a call from Brad.

Wow, I’ve veered back on to sailing again! Hopefully that’s what the America’s Cup world will start talking about again soon. But I doubt it. There’s so much billionaire ego at stake now, it’s hard to see this going anywhere but the New York Supreme Court.

What a long-distant memory that one-second delta of the 32nd America’s Cup seems now. After Barker and Baird, now it’s the lawyers’ turn to enter the start box. It could be over quickly with an early penalty, but I fear a long and protracted dial-up.

It's a bugger's muddle. A field day for the lawyers, a disaster for the short-term health of the event. Longer term, this will become yet an other colourful chapter in the chequered history of the America’s Cup, but I can’t wait for it to be over so we can get back to the sailing.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Ainslie gets a wild card to China

Ben Ainslie has been selected to represent Great Britain in the Finn class at the 2007 Olympic Test Event in Qingdao next month. This is effectively a wild card entry for the reigning Olympic Champion, who has barely set foot in a Finn since winning last year’s Test Event in China.

He’s had other things to do, what with being Dean Barker’s sparring partner and tune-up helm at Emirates Team NZ in Valencia. So Ainslie by his own confession is rusty. Indeed China last summer is the only time Ainslie has raced the Finn since winning the last of his four back-to-back Gold Cups in Moscow back in 2005.

This news will be disappointing but not altogether surprising for Ed Wright, who won last year’s European Championships, but has struggled to reproduce that form this season. He had a solid World Championship in Cascais last week, going into the Medal Race with a good chance of a medal and a shot at gold. However, he had a poor final race, finishing 8th out of 10 and dropping to 6th overall.

I didn’t get a chance to speak to Ed after that final race, but I did see Skandia Team GBR’s Olympic manager Stephen Park giving him a consoling pat on the back. Last week was Ed’s best chance to prove himself selectable ahead of Ben, but it didn’t work out for him. Ed is a mighty talented sailor but like Andrew 'Bart' Simpson four years ago, when Bart won a World bronze, Ed looks like another great athlete who was simply unfortunate to be born in the same era as one of the world's greatest Olympic sailors.

If Ben succeeds in repeating last year’s runaway victory in China, then that will probably be the Finn trials over, right there and then. If Ben finishes outside the medals, then the trials could continue, but it’s hard to envisage this happening.

Skandia Team GBR was on awesome form again, doing sufficient to qualify the nation in all 11 disciplines for next year’s limited entry Olympic Games, and finishing top nation in Cascais with a tally of two golds and four bronzes.

You get some idea of the team’s strength in depth when you consider that last year’s World Champions in the 49er and 470 Men’s classes will be going as tune-up for the British teams selected to race in China this year! 2004 bronze medallists Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks had a sub-par Cascais regatta, finishing 9th while Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes dominated this year’s Worlds to add that title to their European title earned at the end of last season. Meanwhile the 2006 World Champions in the 470, Nic Asher and Elliot Willis, go as training partners for 2004 silver medallists Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield.

Sarah Ayton’s Yngling team, which won the Worlds last week, is going to China while Shirley Robertson’s crew is not down on the list as tune-up.

Here is the full list of Skandia Team GBR representatives for the Test Regatta:


Finn
Ben Ainslie
(tune-up/reserve boat – Ed Wright)

49er
Stevie Morrison & Ben Rhodes
(tune-up/reserve boat – Chris Draper & Simon Hiscocks)

Star
Iain Percy & Andrew Simpson

Laser Radial
Charlotte Dobson
(tune-up/reserve boat – Penny Clark)

Laser
Paul Goodison
(tune-up/reserve boat – Nick Thompson)

RS:X Men
Nick Dempsey
(tune-up/reserve boat – Leo McCallin)

RS:X Women
Bryony Shaw
(tune-up/reserve boat – Lucy Horwood)

470 Men
Nick Rogers & Joe Glanfield
(tune-up/reserve boat – Nic Asher & Elliot Willis)

470 Women
Christina Bassadone & Saskia Clark

Yngling
Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb & Pippa Wilson

Tornado
Leigh McMillan & Will Howden
(tune-up/reserve boat – Andrew Walsh & Ed Barney)

GBR 75 tunes up against America

GBR 75 went sailing for the first time on Saturday, and did some speed testing against a replica of the winner of the first America's Cup, the schooner America. Thankfully GBR 75 was a fair click quicker...

Thanks to ACM photo editor Carmen Hidalgo/ACM 2007 for her photos (captioned). All others non-captioned are from Carlo Borlenghi/ACM 2007, thanks too to him.

Mike Sanderson was there to oversee the test sail for the two days before the boat gets packed up and sent to the UK. There was a mix of sailors/support people onboard to assist with the test sail.

Now that Alinghi has announced a new 90-footer for the 33rd Cup, Hull 75 isn't perhaps quite such a sweet purchase for Sir Keith Mills' team as we originally thought. But every team has to start somewhere, and '75' will at least give the Brits some insight into the exquisite structural engineering that Dirk Kramers and his team at Alinghi put into Rolf Vrolijk's design.

It must be somewhat demotivating, however, to know that the yacht you've just bought will bear no resemblance to the new yachts that we have yet to learn more details of. It was hard to find a sailor in Valencia who would be openly critical of the state of limbo that the Cup currently finds itself in, but privately a number of sailors and designers have voiced their frustration at the lack of detail about the 33rd Cup.

Apparently, if the venue is to be Valencia again, then we'll know this to be the case by the end of July. Otherwise we could be in for a long wait while ACM weighs up bids from other competing cities in Europe. Hopefully the decision will come sooner than later, otherwise all the momentum built up from the great show of the 32nd Cup will be lost.

With the Golden Gate Yacht Club's counter-challenge last week to mock yot club, Club Nautico Espanol de Vela,
followed closely by the sad confirmation of Louis Vuitton's long-rumoured withdrawal as the event's chief sponsor, these are uncertain times for the future of the Cup.













Thursday, 12 July 2007

That’s not a Challenge. This is a Challenge. In 90-ft Multihulls!

The Golden Gate Yacht Club has counter challenged the Spanish Challenge of Record, claiming the Club Nautico Espanol de Vela’s challenge to Alinghi is illegal.

I don’t know if the Spanish challenge is illegal or not – I’ll leave that argument to the laywers - but it was certainly spineless. By accepting the one-sided Protocol laid down by Alinghi last week, Desafio Espanol has effectively admitted that it has no real desire to win the 33rd America’s Cup. It is merely happy to be a participant, whilst handing Alinghi the tools for a 5-0 whitewash.

The Spanish team is to be applauded for having reached the Semi Finals of the recent Louis Vuitton Cup, but it appears that is the limit of its competitive instincts. In its desire to keep the Cup in Valencia it seems Desafio Espanol was prepared to sign almost anything that Alinghi demanded. The Spanish have sold the challengers down the river.

Today, BMW Oracle’s home club in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Yacht Club, sent its counter-challenge to the Societe Nautique de Geneve. The GGYC commodore Marcus Young wrote: “We respectfully submit that the challenge is invalid. Among other deficiencies, it is not from a bone fide yacht club, but from an entity organized in the form of a yacht club only a few days before the challenge was accepted by SNG and which has never had an annual regatta on an open water course on the sea or an arm of the sea as required by the Deed of Gift.

“It is also apparent that this ‘Challenger of Record’ has not performed any of the duties of the Challenger as contemplated by the Deed of Gift, but has simply delegated to the Defender the authority to determine all of the ‘conditions’ governing the match. This undermines the fundamental purpose of the Deed of Gift to preserve this competition as a Challenge Cup.”

And here’s the fun part.

The dates: “We name 4 July 2008 as the date of the first race, 6 July 2008 and 8 July 2008 as the dates for the second and, if necessary, third races.”


And here are the vital statistics for the boat:

Rig: single-masted, sloop-rigged

Dimensions:

Length on Load Waterline – 90 feet

Beam at Load Waterline – 90 feet

Extreme Beam – 90 feet

Draught of water (hull draft) – 3 feet

Draught of water (boards down) – 20 feet

So, a 90-foot catamaran perhaps, or a 90-foot trimaran, or what about a 90-foot skiff with trapeze wings spanning 90-feet from side to side? To be held somewhere in the northern hemisphere in just less than a year.

Plainly the proposal is ludicrous, but in so doing the GGYC has highlighted just how ludicrous some elements of the original Protocol document are. Take, for example, the fact that the Defender has granted itself the right to compete in every stage of the Challenger series, with the exception of the finals. Oh right, OK, so with the one-boat rule that is being mooted, that would mean the challengers’ boats are committed to three months of hard racing, with no opportunity for testing or development. Meanwhile the Defender is free to compete for a few races, assess relative speed against the challengers, then withdraw for a spot of chainsaw surgery and then enter a later stage of the Challenger series a couple of weeks further down the line. Rinse and repeat until boat is faster. How very convenient.

The Club Nautico Espanol de Vela was quick to issue a rebuttal to the GGYC’s shot across their bow, protesting the validity of the original challenge, and assuring everyone that the Protocol guarantees a fair fight for one and all. With thanks to James Boyd’s translation of the original Spanish text on The Daily Sail: “We want to emphasise that the spirit which has presided over the negotiations with the Defender on the part of the CNEV has been one to create a transparent competition that is right and equitable for all the participants and for which joint instruments of management have been created which we hope contribute to a greater agility and effectiveness in the development of the next event.”

Phew, that’s a relief. Back to your beds and rest easy. The Spanish have got it under control. “Thanks for your concern, GGYC, but we’ll take it from here.”

Thursday, 5 July 2007

90 Footers for the 33rd Cup

So, the rumour was true! New boats after all: 90 feet long, lifting keels to get in and out of harbour, 20-ish crew, designed to a box rule and possibly limited to one boat per team.

Plenty more was said, but few facts came out of today’s announcement. It will be in Europe, possibly but not necessarily in Valencia, 2009 if Valencia, 2010 or 2011 if elsewhere in Europe. And Alinghi can choose to take part in the Challenger Series all the way up to – and including – the Semi Finals! Cheeky, but it seems Club Nautico Espanol de Vela were prepared to sign almost anything to secure the privilege of becoming the new Challenger of Record.

At the Challenger of Record press conference at the Desafio Espanol base, one journalist asked the Challenger’s representative lawyer if he had signed a blank piece of paper. His response: “I’m a prestigious lawyer. I’m nobody’s puppet!” Methinks he doth protest too much!

Anyway, more of the Protocol another time. On to the boats, although even here the details are sketchy. Brad Butterworth gave his reasons for a new class in the Cup. “Everybody seems to want a new boat that is bigger, more exciting, difficult to sail, and faster, which is the emphasis behind it. So now we have to come up with a rule for it, and that will need a bit of hard work.

“I think that the timing of the event has got to meet those requirements, so the rule can come out with enough time and everybody can start designing and getting their tools, and designing and building the boat. It will probably take about 20,000 man hours to build a ninety-footer - it all takes it’s time. That is why the window of when the event is has to be a bit flexible, from the sailing point of view.”

Brad said he had enjoyed the ACC boats, but that it was time to move on to “something more exciting. These boats have been fantastic but I think they have got to the end of their life and people are looking for something that is a little bit bigger, a bit more difficult and more exciting. The guys and designers feel they have had their run with these boats and the class rule and they are looking for something else to stimulate them and part of that is to go with a new boat.”

However, he ruled out the possibility of a canting keel, opting instead for a lifting keel. “The canting keel is a difficult option. We can do it a little bit better with this sliding concept; it is not better, just different. In the end the boats will be bigger, faster, and harder to sail – 90 footers that won’t have hydraulic, electric run winches. The guys will have to be athletic [he said with a grin that betrayed just a hint of self-mockery]. They will be tough boats to sail. We haven’t written the class rule yet; it will be put together and published over the next couple of months.”

The perception is that a new class plays into the hands of the richer teams. Just as Brad is fond of saying: “The America’s Cup is a design race.” On this occasion, no one will disagree with him, although he sees it as levelling the playfield. “I think any of the good teams will take it on. They all have good designers and people. I don’t think the rich will get richer; it will be tough for some to catch up if we limit it to this class.

“I think the rule will be reasonably tight, like a box rule, but obviously this rule is pretty complicated. It would be nice to open it up a little bit more. It will be encouraged to come up with new innovative ideas. This is a design contest - a technology race. I think that’s the way the Cup has always been, and we are going to keep it that way.”

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Bigger boats for the 33rd? Surely not

Now we’re into the intriguing limbo between the 32nd America’s Cup, which concluded yesterday, and the 33rd which begins tomorrow with the press conference where hopefully we get to find out things like where and when.

Most people are betting on Valencia 2009, but there’s another rumour in circulation that Alinghi have gone for a change of boats, that the next one might be contested in 100-footers. Speaking to Brad Butterworth today, he was certainly in favour of a change. He reckons that the predominantly light Mediterranean conditions call for something more powerful and dynamic.

Having said that, there has been no better advertisement for the ACC class than what we’ve seen over the past week. Would faster boats have produced such compelling match racing? It’s hard to imagine, so much as I’ve been an advocate of faster boats in the past, I have to admit I’ve been swayed by the appeal of slower boats.

Nothing in the Louis Vuitton Cup convinced me of the merit of these Version 5 boats in producing close racing on a consistent basis, but once we saw two evenly matched teams in The Match, these boats finally lived up to their promise of producing close contests.

However, if Brad thinks faster would be better (and by the way so does his best mate Russell), then that’s good enough for me. I will be amazed if we get a change of boats for the 33rd, though. I think the stronger imperative right now is to have a fast follow-up to the Cup just gone, and that Valencia 2009 is the bigger priority.

A two-year timeline with the added expense and complication of a new class seems highly unlikely. And would be rather irksome for the Germans who are already well into construction of GER 101!

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Bertarelli still alive - and kicking

Bizarrely, there was no joint press conference for winner and loser today. Just the winners - Alinghi. I wonder why. Perhaps there was a clue in Ernesto Bertarelli’s final comment in the winner’s conference this afternoon.

“For us it was coming out alive or dead, and we came out of it alive with our leather shorts and our edelweiss, cuckoo clocks and chocolate factories. I think what Alinghi is a lot of what Switzerland is: a country in the middle of Europe which has had to survive; has had to deal with with its bigger neighbours; has had to be open to different cultures; three different cultures; welcomes foreigners who have contributed to the country and to its culture; a country that looks forward, to its technology, doesn’t have great natural resources, has to be inventive.

“I think the culture of Alinghi is a little like that. An open culture, friendly culture, very welcoming, bigger through diversity, and we certainly enjoy being able to meet and compete against people from different backgrounds and we would never lock anyone out of this competition. I never thought when we started, that we would be locked out of it. When I said that we were fighting for our survival, I didn’t know how right I was, and here we are. Alive and kicking. And I’m looking forward to continue.”

So, no love lost for the Kiwis there, then. In a half hour’s press conference, there was no praise for the losing team forthcoming from Alinghi’s representatives on stage - until TV journo Digby Fox prompted Ed Baird to give his appraisal of the Kiwi team. When Ed picked up his microphone, he looked like he’d been handed the poisoned chalice. “Well… I was going to pass that on to Brad because he has a lot more history there. I was part of the team in ‘95 when Brad was there as well. It’s been amazing to watch the team grow and develop.

“Certainly the team that’s now is substantially changed from that original group, but they’re showing great strength and prowess on the race course. They developed good skills in every area to a very high level, and we’re really proud to finish in front of them at this regatta. I’d like to congratulate them for really doing a great job. It’s not an easy event, there’s a lot of stress involved. At any moment disaster can strike. I think we’ve had two great competitors out there all week.”

So, some credit - after all - to the Kiwis. Because we didn’t get a chance to speak to ETNZ today, the media had to fall back on press releases and TV interviews for the Kiwi viewpoint. Here’s Grant Dalton. “All credit to Alinghi. They kept it close when we got past them on the first run they just kept on sailing the way they do and beat us fair and square in the end. I don’t think the margin today really matters. They still won it.” Magnanimous to the end, although whether he’s saying the same about Alinghi behind closed doors is another matter.

Here’s Terry Hutchinson’s review of his own team and the winners. “An unbelievable team effort. Dalts did a spectacular job. It was nice to be involved with a team that has the amount of character and heart that our team has. Deano did good work. It was good to be a part of a team that was defeated in the manner that they were to come and fight like we did. And it’s nice to be included in that and have some of the influence in that, and partake in the whole thing.

“Every now and then you need a couple of breaks to go our way, and in the last couple of races not one really ever went our way, which is a sign of the fact that Alinghi were doing a good job and going well. You can’t say enough about the calibre of that team. Hats off to them.”

Left is a long way round

The leeward gate was a new feature of the America’s Cup. It proved the undoing of Emirates Team New Zealand. Today the Kiwis repeated the error from the previous race in choosing the left-hand gate and allowing Alinghi to take the right.

Although there were many key moments in the most epic race in
America’s Cup history, it was this seemingly innocuous part of the course which would later lead to that dial-down and subsequent penalty against the Kiwis.

“The one that will haunt me until at least the next America’s Cup is the bottom gate,” Terry Hutchinson admitted. “We came into the bottom on a 138-135 wind direction. So we chose the left gate for the bias and a clean rounding, picked a nice pressure lane, the shift went our way, breeze went back a little right, and yet again they had a little piece of us.”

Brad Butterworth saw an opportunity and grabbed it, just as he had done in Race 6. “TNZ did a great job of pushing down [on the run]. Then they chose again to take the right-hand mark looking down. We did a nice job of delaying our choice until the end. It’s a big deal going round the right-hand mark, having to come round and tack without starboard rights.”

When ETNZ engaged Alinghi in a tacking duel, they were more than a boatlength ahead. At every engagement, however, the Swiss were tacking better and gaining a few metres. Eventually Hutchinson was forced to disengage and try to boatspeed around the left side of his opponent. It wasn’t enough. When Barker tacked on the layline he spun the wheel deep into a dial-down. They failed to keep clear of Alinghi and were given a penalty from which they would never recover.

Or would they? With gear failure on Alinghi’s spinnaker pole combined with a sudden windshift and drop in pressure, ETNZ nearly achieved the impossible, sweeping past Alinghi and completing their penalty oh so close to the finish line. Alinghi limped past to leeward, no one knew who’d won until the blue flag went aloft on the committee boat. It was Alinghi. By 1 second.

The 5-2 score does no justice to how tight this contest was throughout. As Grant Simmer said after Race 6, this America’s Cup was a battle of metres. Today it was a battle of millimetres.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Stay of Execution

Grant Dalton didn’t manage to get the 50th birthday present he would have wished for, after dodgy breeze put paid to hopes of contesting Race 7 this afternoon. Of course the alternative (Alinghi) viewpoint is that today’s postponement is merely a stay of execution for the Kiwis, as the Defender needs just one more victory to seal the deal.

Of course, winning three races on the trot is not insurmountable for ETNZ. Alinghi’s design coordinator Grant Simmer was part of the Australia II team which bounced back from 3-1 down to win the 1983 Cup, as Matt Mason reminded his team mates after yesterday’s morale-sapping loss. Ironically Simmer is one of those trying to prevent history repeating itself.

When asked whether he was surprised about how close NZL 92 and SUI 100 (pictured above in Race 5) were in performance, Simmer answered: “Obviously you always hope for a strong speed advantage. We’re quite happy with the performance of 100, but we weren’t so brash as to believe that boatspeed would win this event.

“The whole way since the last Cup while we’ve been racing the Acts, the teams have been learning together, learning and feeding off each other. That was always going to a lead to a contest that would be very close.”

Whatever Alinghi might say, I think the Defender has found it a bit of shock to find SUI 100 so evenly matched, but Simmer made the point that even a tiny edge could be the difference in this Cup. “This now is a contest of metres, metres to get you in a position where you can get a strong lee bow, or metres where you can get just across the other boat. It’s so close now, where every couple of metres you can gain up the race course is going to be significant.”

That’s what we saw in Race 6 when, even though the lead change took place on the second windward leg, it was SUI 100’s slight downwind speed edge that put Alinghi in position to secure the win.

Saturday, 30 June 2007

Match Point to Alinghi

So Brad, do you still think the America’s Cup is a design race? No one asked Brad Butterworth the question today, because we know what the answer would have been – an exasperated, how-many-more-times-do-I-have-to-say-“Yes!”

After today’s race, I have to admit that I think Brad is right after all. In today’s 7 to 10 knot breezes, on the downwind legs SUI 100 was just plain faster. There was nothing in it upwind, but on the first run Alinghi kept on sliding up behind NZL 92, and once they had pulled in front on the final beat, on the second run they just kept on sliding further away from the Kiwis to the finish.

In today’s conditions, the only weapon in New Zealand’s downwind armoury was superior gybing technique, with the Kiwi ‘inside gybe’ taking about 10 metres off every Swiss ‘outside gybe’. So down the last run Terry Hutchinson kept on trying to engage Butterworth in a gybing duel. After a while, Alinghi refused to play that game and allowed some big splits to open up. It very nearly opened the door to the Kiwis just before the finish, as they closed to within two boatlengths. However, one last roll-of-the-dice split went against the Kiwis as Alinghi came home 28 seconds ahead.

It was hard to fault either sailing team today. In yet another aggressive pre-start, both helmsmen achieved their teams’ objectives – thanks to the fact that ETNZ wanted the left and Alinghi wanted the right. The Kiwi weather team and afterguard won the battle of the first beat, their call for the left proving the winning solution. But the Alinghi afterguard made the better call for the second beat, choosing the right-hand gate and hooking into some better breeze far on the right-hand side.

The Kiwi mastman Matt Mason commented: “On the first run we thought they would pay for going to the right mark and we were laying pretty nicely into the left hand one, so we were happy to go there. We got back on to port and looked just fine the whole way across. There was a lot of what we call rubber banding, as we say, the breeze coming and going.

“We were comfortable until right at the end they got a little flick of right and came back and they were right back in the game. We wanted to send them out to that lay line, but the first time they came back they’d made a little gain and we couldn’t make our lee bow tack stick and that was pretty much it right there.”

Both teams are sailing at the top of their game right now, their sailing styles are becoming more similar as the regatta develops, but boatspeed was a critical factor to Alinghi’s success today. Design is still a big part of the America’s Cup – to that extent Brad Butterworth is certainly correct in his insistence about this – but more than anything this Cup is being decided on good old seat-of-the-pants racing skills. And that’s exactly as it should be. Just when you think you’ve seen all the excitement that you’re going to get from the 32nd America’s Cup, up pops another great race.

After some very one-sided contests in the latter stages of the LV Cup, now we’re finally seeing the benefits of the Version 5 rule changes and the series of Acts over the past three years. Full credit to ACM and Alinghi for setting the stage for such a thrilling showdown.

However, most neutrals in Valencia are rooting for the Kiwis simply because we don’t want the action to end – and also because they’ve taken their setbacks with good grace while Alinghi have had the whiff of sour grapes when things have gone against them.

After today’s match, Alinghi’s confidence will have gone up a notch. The Kiwis are talking a good game, but I don’t think they can take three straight matches off Alinghi. Possibly one, but not more. Anyway, I’m sure they’re not listening to me or anyone else who doesn’t share their enormous reserves of self-belief. Much better that they pay attention to Matt Mason’s words just as they crossed the finish line today. “I just said to the boys, Australia II were 3-1 down in Newport and we all know what happened there. So we’re not going to lie down. Far from it.”

Friday, 29 June 2007

Bloodied but Unbowed

Today SUI 100 won a race in classic Valencian sea breeze conditions, a steady 14-17 knots, the exact conditions in which Alinghi had been predicted to be unstoppable. So all the pre-series hype about Alinghi having a massive speed edge is true then? Er, not quite. They won alright, but not for the reasons you might have thought.

We expected Dean Barker to make the most of the pre-start to try and rough up the Swiss before SUI 100 romped away up the race course.

Well, Barker certainly roughed them up alright, but in the ensuing drag race out to the right-hand side, there was little to nothing in it.

Heading into the start box from the right, Barker looked like he was taking Ed Baird into a conventional dial-up. Suddenly he spun the wheel to leeward and put NZL 92 to leeward and to port of the surprised Swiss. “Oh boy! He’s just done an Eddie-Baby to Eddie!” yelled AC race commentator Geordie Shaver. Barker had just pulled off a manoeuvre on the helmsman whose trademark is that very manoeuvre.

From there Barker chased Alinghi across the top of the start line and past the media boat, with Baird seeking shelter in the massed spectator fleet (see photo). The escape worked – to an extent – but the Kiwis still led back to the line, bouncing Alinghi away on to port just before the start.

The Kiwis accelerated, sailed a few lengths, then tacked up on the windward hip of Alinghi, using about a boatlength’s advantage to control the race. But then in a matter of seconds SUI 100 leapt forward, eradicating the Kiwi advantage in no time flat. “Here it comes,” was the feeling on the media boat, as SUI 100 rumbled forward ominously underneath NZL 92. But wait! The Kiwis were holding them. Indeed they held them all the way out to the layline, with the help of a small left-hand shift, and led Alinghi by 12 seconds at the windward mark.

It all went badly wrong for the Kiwis down the next leg, with one slightly ripped spinnaker exploding just seconds before the foredeck crew were ready with the replacement. Grant Dalton took the blow on the chin. “We have always emphasised reliability as an essential element of our campaign. Today that small tear in the spinnaker cost us the race. We had a little nick in the spinnaker which must have been a result of hoisting it. Just as we went to do a standard peel it blew out so that was the first problem. Then we starting hoisting but I don't think we had the tack on so we ended up with no spinnaker. That was a mistake.”

Once Alinghi swept past and into the lead, they never looked likely to relinquish it, although the Kiwis reduced the deficit from 28 seconds at the bottom gate to just 19 seconds by the finish. Ernesto Bertarelli admitted he’d been fortunate to win that one: “Yes, we were a little lucky there. But even if you rip a spinnaker it is because something has gone wrong. I don’t think it was ripped when they put it in the bag this morning. This race was won on the work on the foredeck. The guys did fantastic manoeuvres and we were being really careful to not overstep the line.”

One of the fun moments of the press conferences in recent days has been to ask Brad Butterworth, “So Brad, do you still think the America’s Cup is a design race?” The last time he was asked, a couple of days ago, he answered: “For the last time. Yes!”

Today, however, with no Butterworth present, it was trimmer Simon Daubney’s turn to put the Alinghi point of view. Surely they had expected to be faster than the Kiwis in today’s conditions? Apparently not. “We weren’t expecting to go out there in over 12 knots and blow their doors off. We knew that the ETNZ boat was a good all-round boat, and I don’t feel disappointed because I have always expected it to be a very close contest between two very fast boats. There is a narrowing of the advantage line all round… It doesn’t surprise us that the boats are pretty even.”

When I asked Dalton if he was relieved to discover that his boat was the match of the Swiss, he replied: “We never today thought for a second that we’d be at a disadvantage pace-wise, but even if you were – and you believed you were – frankly you’d be in trouble. So it’s the size of the dog in the fight, or the fight in the dog, whichever way round it is, you know? Emirates Team New Zealand is a team that can hang tough.”

Today, with the first big sea breeze conditions of the regatta, was expected to be a defining moment. It wasn’t. The Alinghi boat is not the rocketship that we had thought, and nor was the Kiwis’ crew work as flawless as we had believed. The 32nd America’s Cup is still full of twists and turns. With the score at 3-2, I’m still none the wiser as to who’s going to win this one. And anyone who thinks they do know the answer, is an eejit.


Thursday, 28 June 2007

A Tale of Two Grants - One Grimacing, One Grinning

I hope you like today’s piece of art contributed by an anonymous SailJuice fan. Today the high rollers from Las Vegas were on tenterhooks, hoping that the protest against them amounted to nothing.

Grant Simmer was simmering, not to say seething, when he walked out of the jury room after today’s mammoth hearing over what appeared a pretty trivial matter. Alinghi had won the protest, the Kiwis lost it, but to judge by the looks on the faces of Grant S and his grinning rival Grant D, you could have been forgiven for thinking the decision had gone the other way.

The Kiwis might have lost the protest, but they had tied up three of Alinghi’s sailors for more than five hours of soporific toing and froing between the two sides, while Dean Barker was sitting up at the swanky Foredeck Club just a hundred metres away, enjoying a couple of glasses of wine with his luncheon. So it was protest lost, but job done, as far as the Kiwis were concerned.

It all centred around some TV footage of Alinghi bowman Pete Van Niewenhuyzen who was raised to the top of the mast to fix a halyard after SUI 100 crossed the finish line yesterday. The Kiwis filed the protest after watching TV footage of one of the customary post-race measurement checks. The measurers asked both teams to lower their mainsails, without the assistance of a man aloft, to demonstrate compliance with ACC Rule 31.6.

The Kiwis lowered the mainsail without a man aloft, to the satisfaction of the measurers. The Alinghi team asked the measurer who had boarded SUI 100 if they could raise a man up the mast to fix a halyard (which wouldn’t be put under tension) to the mainsail, for safety reasons, to prevent the sail from being damaged if it came down uncontrollably. The measurer on board agreed to this request.

However, one interpretation of the TV footage of Van Niewenhuyzen could be that he gave the head of the mainsail a good kick just as the halyard lock was being released. A more charitable interpretation would be that in the rolling seaway the bowman was being thrown around, and that he was simply flung into the mainsail.

Clearly at least one member of Bryan Willis’s Jury was dissatisfied with the outcome, as the protest was dismissed by a majority – not a unanimous – decision. “This is not a clear cut case,” Grant Dalton said. “The fact that the Jury did not reach a unanimous decision points to that.”

The Jury left it to the discretion of the Measurement Committee to take “appropriate steps to satisfy itself” that yachts are in accordance with the Class Rule. “That means the Committee can have another look, if it chooses, at what we all saw on the television coverage yesterday,” said Dalts, the sly old fox.

Today was a huge distraction for Alinghi, who appeared to rise to the bait, but tomorrow’s forecast for a strong, steady sea breeze gives the Defender an excellent opportunity for revenge – provided SUI 100 proves as unstoppable as the hype around this boat.