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.