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.

2 comments:

Trebormat said...

Two boats one crew.
I works for Sail system measurements and my system analyses and compares two sails (or same sail) for the same or different sailing sequence (different time, space,...).
This system had been used by Luna Rossa for example, the name is SailVison.
Matthieu.
A article on my blog: It Gives You Wings!. Sorry my blog is in french.

Ross said...

It doesn't matter that everyone isn't clamoring after Ellison. He's done what needs to be done. Everyone is happy to let Ellison do the diry work while they get on with the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, none of them understand Americans or how Americans view sportsmanship and fair play. To think Ellison is a billionaire out of control is idiotic. He's an American who applies his sense of sportsmanship, which is probably fairly conventional, even for Europeans, relative to the Prince of Alinghi's draconian, totalitarian protocol for AC33. He looks at the protocol and sees pathological arrogance. Bertarelli himself told Ellison, "Wouldn't you do this if you won the protocol, Larry?" Well, I don't think Larry would do that. Which is what this is all about. Nobody wants catamarans. But I don't think anybody wants Bertarelli to make the America's Cup his toy, either. If you think there's an out-of-control billionaire, holding up this entire event, I think it's pretty obvious. He ain't American. He's SUI.