Thursday, July 5, 2007

Life at Ninety (feet)

Forgive my lack of outrage.

Or if not outrage, indignation, or, something. If you're looking for that, check yourself into just about any other sailing site, forum, or asylum online and I bet you'll get a dose.

Not here. No way. I am privileged to have a front-row seat at the greatest circus on earth, my earth anyway, the America's Cup. And love'em or hate'em, the defenders today released documents and announced intentions that go a long way toward guaranteeing my gainful employment (no comments, don't even think about it; and by the way, I've probably got another one or two of these columns in me, so drop back in on Monday or so) for the next few years.

We're talking a concentration of power, expansion of the monetization of the Cup, a dynamic new 90-foot class that will thrill all of us and doubly challenge the upstarts—in short, ample fust for the fustigation. And no, we do not yet know where or when the next Cup match will be.

Alinghi has grandly shouldered the traditions of self-interest in the face of slings and arrows, a tradition that was launched by a very different set of defenders in 1870, and which has been honored since with a consistency wondrous to behold.

These are the same successful defenders who, a few days ago, celebrated LOUDLY and all but flung the Cup around but did not share the moment or the stage of the press conference with the challenger whose performance had made America's Cup 32 such a stirring contest. That would have been nice, but what is nice?

We characterized the recent match as a battle for the future of the Cup, with the Kiwis on the side of tradition. My read on the 5-2 scoreline is that New Zealand could have won, but they lost, and if we sailed it again there would be something like a 90 percent chance of the same outcome.

If you don't like the way things are done around here, there's one thing you can do about it. Alinghi team boss Ernesto Bertarelli said something recently that I can't quote to the letter, but I've got the gist of it right here: "The beautiful thing about the America's Cup is that, when you win it, you can do what you want."

He means, of course, subject to the Deed of Gift, and given an agreeable Challenger of Record, which he appears to have in the Spanish team, which has formed a yacht club for the purpose of the challenge.

Using that sort of "yacht club" has outraged a few people, but the fact is that yacht clubs are not a fit at all in the new reality of America's Cup competition. They're built in by the Deed of Gift, but the power of any challenging club has been so fully and repeatedly circumvented, by special agreements protecting the interested parties, that a club burgee is merely a necessary window dressing for the people who are really running things. Bemoan that fate if you will. I'm already on the other side of the river, and I'm not swimming through the floating carcasses to get back.

Those 90 footers

Our friends today were vague regarding the details of the new ACC class, though I'm sure that it is already closely refined. They do in fact sound exciting for the sailors and probably good for public interest. They'll be 11 feet longer than the existing boats (which will still be used for pre-event racing), and one suspects they will look markedly different from the plank-on-edge thingies that have developed over the last 101 ACC builds.

Oh yes. There is a 101. Team Germany started building a new boat while the last round of racing was under way. I hope they like their new boat.

Alinghi skipper/tactician Brad Butterworth mentioned sliding keels, which also are referenced in the Protocol. That merely means the keel can be lifted for shallow harbors. These are going to be deep-deep-draft boats, and they will need that. But forget about the complications of canting keels, a good decision in my book.

Between Butterworth and Alinghi general counsel Hamish Ross, there appeared to be a desire to cast the boat-type decision as something last minute, or at least very, very recent. That helps keep things vague. When I asked about the recent sale of SUI 75 to Britain's new TeamOrigin challenge, Ross said from the podium that the team had not known about the new class at the time of the sale. He chased me down later to modify that, and some time later, ACM distributed "quotes of the day" including this legalish sentence attributed to Ernesto Bertarelli, who was not present at the press conference: "Team Origin were made aware of the possibility of the class change before they bought SUI 75 and there is a clause in the contract that states this possibility." As Ross said, "They'll need it for the pre-event racing anyway."

And those pre-events are now being cast as qualifying regattas, which, on the face of it, could place yet another obstacle in the way of startup teams looking for sponsorship. If you can't guarantee that you'll be showing the logo at the main event . . .

Butterworth, who once again alleged his loyalty to Alinghi (Are you staying? "It looks that way."), said of the existing ACC class, where the competition has been so close because the boats are so similar, "I think they've got to the end of their life." As to the 90-footers: "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.

“I think the rule should be reasonably tight, a box rule, but obviously the rule we have now is pretty complicated. It would be nice to open it up a bit, to encourage people to come up with innovative ideas. This is a design contest, a technology race. That’s the way the Cup has always been, and we are going to keep it that way."

Paul Cayard, in the audience, had a different opinion. His thought, "This will make it easier for Alinghi."

Presumably, much will depend upon whether teams are allowed to build more than one of the 90 footers. Butterworth again: "In the last challenge we tried to get the teams to limit costs and we got nowhere. A lot of it is in the testing time. A lot of that is waste."

More is more

This column is getting out of hand, and I'm ready to bail. The last time I checked, I was on deadline at SAIL magazine, so I'm going to leave you with just a few more bits.

America's Cup Management CEO Michel Bonnefous shared the stage for the press conference and spoke of "a natural relationship with Valencia and Spain . . . but we haven't reached an agreement so far" to sail the next regatta here.

With the industrial port of Valencia seeking to expand, there are issues to be resolved. If the Cup stays, 2009 is the date for match 33. If the Cup moves, the date pushes back to 2010 or 2011.

Even though I'm aware (or perhaps because I am aware) that the Cup's Deed of Gift is incorporated in the State of New York, and the ultimate authority is the Supreme Court of the State of New York, I'm still puzzling over this item from the Protocol—

24.1 Composition : the Sailing Jury and the Arbitration Panel shall each comprise three (3) members. Members may be

(b) residents of any country, except the State of New York without the prior approval of ACM, including a country of a Competitor in the Event.

And we don't want to go back to court, do we—or cede any risks?


Each person or entity, including its officers, members and employees, having the right to make an application to the Sailing Jury or the Arbitration Panel hereunder shall not resort to any other court or tribunal than the Sailing Jury and the Arbitration Panel. Any such resort shall constitute a breach of this Protocol. Notwithstanding the above, nothing shall prevent SNG [Société Nautique de Genève] from making any application it considers in its sole discretion appropriate regarding the administration of the Deed of Gift.

Probably twentyish crew for the new class. Bigger, faster, and they can hurt you. What more could we ask of a boat—Kimball