Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Four Letter Word (keel)

This courtroom stuff doesn't lack drama.

Alinghi's latest ploy yields at least a chance of wriggling out of the BMW Oracle trap, and who can fail to be awestruck that the BMW Oracle challenge for AC 33 was copied almost word for word from the Kiwi Big Boat challenge of 1988 and now may be its own worst enemy.

No points to any of us who failed to pick up sooner on the full deal. No points to the supposed pundits. No points to Alinghi's former "best lawyers." No points to anyone at BMW Oracle who allowed the word "keel" to appear in what was clearly meant to be a catamaran challenge.

Last summer, when Alinghi opened its doors to a media fest the day after its victory in America's Cup 32, more than one principal—Grant Simmer comes to mind—had edgy words for their experience with the man who had run negotiations for the challenger of record, BMW Oracle's Tom Ehman. They thought they had been worked pretty hard. Tom's been working the case this time, too. Should Alinghi's new game of expert testimony succeed in negating BMW Oracle as the court-designated challenger of record for AC 33, you'll be able to hear their gotcha in every noogie of the sailing world.

Or not. Ehman helped orchestrate San Diego Yacht Club's 1988 catamaran response that rolled up the Kiwi Big Boat challenge in a tight, wet knot and sent it home with its tail between its legs. If I'm not mistaken, he hand-delivered the Oracle challenge to Geneva. If I'm not mistaken, he knows how to spell gotcha.

We've got a live ball. (define "ball")

And I'm guessing the American camp can play a good game of Expert Testimony themselves, when called upon. Methinks they need but one fast cat, of any generation, with keels on display.

Hang onto your seats. (you might be in them a long time)

Pity so many angels impaled on a pin

Should it come to this, I fail to see what prevents Oracle from putting a plausible keel(s) on a cat that still has plenty of performance. What I fear most is further splitting of hairs in further court iterations over what is a "keel" until I'm unable to write that opening line over again. I lived through '88, and it was the pits.

Now it's clear what the TeamOrigin "third way" challenge is all about. If all the other challengers are knocked out because they challenged behind the invalidated Spanish would-be challenger of record, CNEV, and if BMW Oracle is knocked out for having (as alleged) a self-contradictory challenge, then Origin with its January 22 challenge becomes the fresh face that pivots attention toward a mutual consent match, with multiple challengers in 90-foot boats, in 2011 in Valencia. That's a long time away, but at least it's doable. No reason to doubt that Keith and Ernesto had a chat.

I'm not a betting man, much less a predicting man. We may be headed toward a shootout in catamarans, though not without being dragged longer through the courts. It seems clear that Mr. Bertarelli has no intention of compromising on anything with anybody named Ellison.

Even Scuttlebutt's formerly-confident Cory Friedman has started hedging about what happens next in court.

Here are just a few observations on one of many what-ifs and some of the devils in the details:

Origin head Sir Keith Mills signed the team's challenge document, which says, "We envisage discussing with you and hopefully agreeing alternative arrangements by mutual consent as contemplated in the Deed of Gift. Our intention would be to agree a Protocol and associated documents along similar lines to the ones negotiated with Challengers between July and November, 2007.”

Well, Virginia, negotiations between July and November 2007 covered a lot of ground. From the overly-grasping original protocol announced July 5 (the last formal amendment was released September 20) to the reasonable-enough wording of the final (most recent?) compromise offer made by BMW Oracle on November 16, including endorsements from Team Origin (note that), Team New Zealand and Shosholoza. Which was also, to date, the last compromise offer to be rejected by Alinghi.

If a 2011 protocol should emerge on the November 16 model, BMW Oracle can take credit for heading off the debacle of the original protocol, at an expense of blood. If a 2011 protocol should emerge on the July 5 model, Origin becomes the new wimp on the block.

Actually, wimp isn't as strong as the word that comes to mind . . .

And wimp is not a natural role for Origin's designated helmsman, Ben Ainslie. You should know by now that the former sparring helmsman for New Zealand has won his fifth Finn Gold Cup in races just completed at Melbourne, Australia. Here's a bit of what benainslie.com has to say about it:

Ainslie finished just a wave behind British team mate Ed Wright in the medal race, which is restricted to the top ten sailors after eight races in the 82-boat fleet, but well ahead of New Zealander Dan Slater, who had been only a point behind him going into the medal race. A fresh 15-knot sou-‘wester, with only minor variation in direction, made the race probably the regatta’s fairest. The outcome was decided at the start with Ainslie getting away well towards the middle of the line while Slater was buried and had to tack off on port early but in disturbed air under the Canadian Chris Cook.

Three men have won the Finn worlds three times. The man himself, Paul Elvstrom--the man who invented the sailor as athlete--won it twice. Ben Ainslie stands alone in that category and also has a crack at a third Olympic gold medal at Qingdao.

(The man himself, Paul Elvstrom, won four Olympic gold medals, and in that he will still stand alone, for at least four more years, no matter what happens at Qingdao.)

I'm not excited, but for what it's worth

Here's a cut and paste from antarcticacup.com


One of the 9lb muzzle loader guns landed in 1893 to shore up Albany's defences against a perceived Russian invasion, finally had a Russian in its sights today when Fedor Konyukhov set out from this historic West Australian port to set a solo sailing record around Antarctica.

The 56 year old adventurer who sailed his Open 85ft monohull 'Trading Network Alye Parusa' half way round the world from Falmouth UK to take on yachting's last great frontier, crossed the line at 10hrs 21 minutes 40secs W.Australia Summer Time, to the signal from the gun and a cacophony of car horns and cheers from crowds lining the foreshore.

Conditions could not have been better with bright, warm sunshine and flat seas -- a far cry from what Konyukhov can expect once he is down within the 'Roaring Forty', 'Furious Fifty' and 'Screaming Sixty' latitudes that mark the the Antarctica Cup Racetrack.

Among the well wishers here to see Fedor off was Jon Sanders, the only other solo sailor to have ever circumnavigated around Antarctica before in southern latitudes. He completed the 14,000 mile circuit aboard the S&S 34, monohull 'Perie Banou' on the first stage of a remarkable double global circumnavigation back in 1981/2. His first circuit around the icy southern continent during which he suffered two horrific knockdowns, took Sanders almost three times Fedor's expected time of 60-65 days.

The Russian will be hampered for the next three days by very light southerly winds -- exactly the direction he needs to enter the Antarctica Cup Racetrack.