America's Cup Diary - October 2007
One day we might look back on this era of the America's Cup with fond amusement. The moments in a century and a half of competition where the lawyers have had a bigger say in the event's outcome than the sailors, all add to the Cup's rich history. But going through these periods as they're actually happening is nothing but painful.
It will be interesting to see how history judges Alinghi's conduct. Is Ernesto Bertarelli's team the villain of the piece, or are the Swiss merely misunderstood? There is no doubt that the way the Protocol for the 33rd America's Cup is written leaves it open to massive abuse by the Defender. Whether or not Alinghi chooses to abuse the privileges of its powerful position remains to be seen.
Much depends on how the New York Supreme Court takes a view of the current situation. Having secured former Alinghi skipper Russell Coutts as the new CEO of BMW Oracle Racing, Larry Ellison appears keen to press ahead with his lawsuit against Alinghi, largely based on what he believes to be a bogus challenge by the recently formed Club Nautico Espanol de Vela (CNEV).
The wording of the Protocol suggests the Spanish had little interest in helping shape a fair sporting contest, more in toadying up to Alinghi in the hope of keeping the Cup in Valencia. Well, to that extent, the Spanish have been successful. Paying Alinghi around Euros 105 million, they have indeed secured Valencia as the host of the next Cup, with a date of July 2009 for the America's Cup Match.
That is quite an ambitious schedule, even without the legal shenanigans that are set to take place in the coming months, and even without the introduction of a new 90-foot class whose rules have yet to be drawn up, let along a boat to be designed or built. Strangely, one of the other announcements that came on the same day as Valencia's confirmation was that teams would be allowed to build two boats for the next Cup, but that they will only be able to sail one at any time.
This puts an end to two-boat testing, an expensive and very dull exercise for the sailors, but why allow two boats to be built in such a short time frame? Such a rule suggests Alinghi has a lot of faith in Rolf Vrolijk, Grant Simmer and the rest of the design team's ability to out-think and out-design the challengers.
Despite these strange and unpredictable times, challengers have been throwing their hat in the ring. The Kiwis have signed up again, taking the sweetener offered to them by Alinghi to take a seat at the table when formulating the new design rule. The Brits are in, the South Africans and the Germans too. But not Luna Rossa. After three campaigns, Patrizio Bertelli has called time on his Italian challenge. How much his decision was influenced by the current uncertainties, we don't know. But it can't have helped. Like most sailing enthusiasts, Bertelli wants a yacht race, not a legal battle.