Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Frodo! Let Go of the Ring!

I'm betting and certainly hoping that the Big Guys will sort out the issues surrounding the next America's Cup match without the long-running agony and long-term damage that came out of the big boat/catamaran fracas of '88, the last time that AC teams went armed to the courts of New York, which is where we are again unless something changes. And—

I was literally in mid-sentence when this pinged the Inbox:

"As a consequence of the uncertainty and the delays arising from the Golden Gate Yacht Club Law suit in New York, AC Management is concerned that the feasibility of organising the next America's Cup in Valencia in 2009 has been effectively compromised. ACM will in the coming days engage in consultations with the Defender, the Challenger of Record, the Competitors and the Spanish Authorities on this specific matter."

Hmm. Uncertainty, yes, but I don't know that, to this point, there have been any actual delays on account of the legal action. Was there ever time to do a 2009 regatta, comfortably, in a new class of boat?

But how else would ACM want to frame the problem?

Ernesto Bertarelli and Alinghi helmsman Ed Baird are paying visits in New York City and San Francisco this week in an attempt to win opinion makers to the defender's point of view. I figure it's a tough sell. No way have Americans rallied around Bertarelli's chief opponent, Larry Ellison/Golden Gate YC, as a flag bearer against the protocol of America's Cup 33. (My British colleague, Tim Jeffery, reports that Bertarelli and Ellison have recently, finally, talked by phone.) But neither have Americans embraced the defender's ideas, and my own reception to the protocol was cool from the start.

I remember July 5, 2007. I raced out of the press conference in Valencia where the protocol had just been outlined and I double-stepped up two flights of escalators in the Media Center in time to be the first guy to the top floor to print out and begin studying a copy. With papers in hand I went back down one floor, pumped up a triple espresso, rode back up one floor to read the document medium-carefully, and then I sat down and wrote:

Forgive my lack of outrage. Or if not outrage, indignation, or, something . . . 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 announced intentions that go a long way toward guaranteeing my gainful employment for the next few years.

We're talking a concentration of power, expanded 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 . . . 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.

Remember, that was just a first impression.

I am now told I will have a bit of face time with Mr. Bertarelli before the week is out, and I'm reviewing old news to remind myself that I didn't need a counter-challenge from BMW Oracle, or the announcement of a lawsuit, or a phone call from Tom Ehman to tell me what I think. The original, July 5 protocol for America's Cup 33 runs twenty-six pages, but it can be boiled down to five words:

You are all my prisoners.

Yep, I was dismayed by the protocol. Often in such matters, if you didn't go to the meeting, you missed elements of why this or that decision was made for reasons that seemed just right to people who were listening to the full discussion. I'm willing to believe that's true at some level in the framing of the protocol. However – for example -- between the letter of the protocol, and appearances surrounding matters relating to the Jury and the Arbitration Panel, there have been problems of (did I already mention?) appearances.

And making later compromises by ceding powers to people that you've appointed will not get you over Jordan when the river is rising.

Are we headed for negotiations? The defender is reaching out to public opinion, and certain concessions have been offered, but we don't yet know what that means.

I look forward to conversations with Mr. Bertarelli, who no doubt will be highly persuasive in person. This is a far-from-average guy (thanks for the pic, Thierry Martinez) who stepped into running a major family-controlled company while still in his twenties, redirected its focus from pharmaceuticals to biotech, and doubled the revenues in six years. Later he figured out how to use his fortune to win the America's Cup – I call it to your attention that a number of other smart rich guys have tried and failed – and then re-imagined the racing to include pre-events, fleet racing, and a stronger public face than ever before. It was a performance that (except in New Zealand, where he hired away the leading talents and left the local fan base a trifle sore), earned him top approval ratings. Our Ernesto was the golden boy. Then, so it seems, came the effects of clasping the Ring of Power.

Some day, when a different generation writes America's Cup history, Ernesto Bertarelli will have his own chapter.

You don't cross him – ask Russell Coutts – but Ernesto Bertarelli is uniquely positioned to play the role of statesman in a game that dearly needs one. Perhaps he feels that he is playing that role. Presumably he has noticed that, for some of us, the appearances don't line up.

So I look forward to the next few days. Mr. Bertarelli has the opportunity to persuade me to his point of view, and I have the opportunity to say:

Frodo! Let go of the ring!

An Explanation of Everything

Some of us are well versed in the intricacies of the AC controversy; some of us are not. Plenty of words have been written and the lawyerly types will soon add many more. I'm not reviewing the details here. Instead, I offer a more transcendent view. Merely contemplate the sign in this picture, apply your undivided consciousness, and you will gain enlightenment on the state of America's Cup 33 . . .

Shantih Shantih Shantih—Kimball