Sunday, October 7, 2007

Alinghi in America

It's hard work being Ernesto Bertarelli.

Imagine: It's Thursday night last and here is The Man Who Holds the America's Cup, and he is speaking with animation and charm to a small gathering of officers at a West Coast yacht club about his trials as a defender in the context of being assailed from all sides about his vision of racing in the future. Only hours before, his G5 had landed (behind schedule) at SFO from the East Coast . . .

Bertarelli and "the old lady" in the Model Room of the New York Yacht Club
East Coast tour photo by Rick Maiman/Alinghi

. . . and a similar gathering in New York, but wait . . .

Before we have time to complete our thoughts about our little West Coast dinner and the conversations that took place it's already morning, and it's Friday, and here is Ernesto Bertarelli in a private room at the yacht club, cranking through an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle, then talking by phone to a Spanish radio station and then to The San Diego Union and – let's spare ourselves the whole list – meanwhile this blogster guy is kicked back in an upholstered chair chatting with the vice commodore of La Société Nautique de Genève, Fred Meyer, who is musing over whether or not the BMW Oracle legal challenge is driven by a desire for revenge on the part of Russell Coutts and what do I think, he asks. And danged if I know. Russell never calls.

A casual, conversational question from Fred, or a clever plant? I'll never know.

And now the morning is getting on and I have the undivided attention of The Man Who Holds the America's Cup, who knows full well that I have been hammering on him since about two hours after he announced the protocol for the 33rd match ("The protocol can be boiled down to five words, You are all my prisoners"), and part of the reason he has come to America at all is to attempt to make peace with the likes of me and we have not quite an hour of this happiness ("The 32nd America's Cup was great, and we organized that; I was hoping they would at least give us a chance to repeat that success") before his handlers start fidgeting and he has to go pose for photographs with the America's Cup and a background of the Golden Gate Bridge (yes, the Cup came along, still traveling in its Louis Vuitton case with two bodyguards) and then immediately The Man has to stand up in front of a lunchtime crowd of a couple hundred people and turn his story into a stew of information and argument and entertainment and then rush back to the G5 at SFO and -- take a breath -- I can tell you this: It is impossible to spend time with Ernesto Bertarelli when he's on-message and not like him and want to dash home and bake him an apple pie. He's that good.

Here's one thing he had told us the previous night, "We have our catamaran races on the lake at home, and I won four times in a row because I had more money, but I got bored. Then we went to one-design catamarans and I lost three times in a row, but this year I finally won, and now it means something."

(thoughtful pause)

Ernesto Bertarelli is an astute intelligence with talented advisors and he knows, when he tells a story like that, it makes him sound good, a real stand-up guy. And I figure he knows that I know that he knows that I know that he knows that I know.

And it still sounds good. I believe him.

But we are left to ponder whether it is a sign of strength or weakness that Team Alinghi would launch a PR campaign in America as we hurtle toward a showdown in the courts of New York, with Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth off in the great elsewhere giving interviews and expressing optimism that an agreement will be reached between Alinghi and BMW Oracle without going to court.

BTW, here's catamaran racing on Lake Geneva, with Alinghi on the right . . .

Now, don't worry, guys. I'm not going to leave it here. I'm just getting warmed up. But I do believe this sets the stage.

Y'all come back, hear?

For the moment let me leave you with a reminder that the mini-Transat fleet is back at sea. Here is a thought lifted from Joe Groton, a friend of the only American racing the Transat 6.50, Clay Burkhalter, thinking back to the departure from Madeira on Saturday: "The morning was gray and misty, with glimpses of sun breaking through. The wind was nowhere to be found. The docks were bustling with sailors and their families - a few weeping girlfriends and many hugs all around. I remain impressed with the camaraderie among the 89. I watched Clay as he shook the hands of his competitors; each saying 'be safe' to the other. It was difficult not to be moved by the scene and the magnitude of their journey ahead."

Three thousand miles in tiny boats. Yeah, Joe got it right—Kimball