There is no stage more prestigious nor competition more distinguished in the world of yacht racing than that of the America’s Cup.
For over 150 years this contest has garnered world attention and attracted the absolute finest talent the sport has to offer from all over the world.
As it is a design forum in addition to being a world-famous regatta, it has yielded many innovative and progressive concepts that have trickled down and changed the sport of modern sailing.
The AC, as it is known to racing enthusiasts, is the epitome of a high profile event, with last year’s racing considered some of the most exciting in its 157-year history.
Today the event is in shambles. The storied and dignified yacht race is being schlepped through a legal world of mud and waste by the billionaires who hold all the cards.
The current defender of the Cup, Alinghi, headed by Ernesto Bertarelli, the chief executive officer of Serono International SA, a major biotechnology and pharmaceutical company, and challenger BMW/Oracle, led by Larry Ellison, founder of the Oracle Corporation, an enormous computer software company, have been butting heads and wrangling with each other from the moment the last America’s Cup race (the 32nd) ended, last July.
The rules, protocols and governing documents involving this particular sporting event are somewhat detailed, but when everything goes according to plan, and competing parties are cooperative, things run smoothly.
However, after the final race of the 32nd Cup, in which Alinghi defeated Team New Zealand, things got dicey.
Directly after racing was completed, Bertarelli accepted a challenge from a Spanish club, Club N·utico Espa“ol de Vela, but as it turned out, some alleged that the club seemed to have been set up to manipulate the events rules more favorably towards Alinghi.
The Golden Gate Yacht Club (BMW/Oracle Racing) immediately issued a challenge of its own, followed by a lawsuit, and it was decided that, indeed, Club N·utico Espa“ol de Vela did not meet the criteria for a proper challenge, making BMW/Oracle Racing the “Challenger of Record.” From that point on, the America’s Cup went from the drawing room and racecourse to the courtroom, where it has remained.
Competing teams from all over the globe, which had millions of dollars invested, watched and waited to see if this dilemma would right itself, but to no avail as the international event began to crumble before their eyes.
On Tuesday, April 29th, the California Yacht Club will host Cupdate with special guest speaker Tom Ehman, head of external affairs for BMW/Oracle Racing. Ehman is the spokesperson for BMW/Oracle and has been professionally involved in every America’s Cup for the last three decades. He has been intimately entwined in this extremely confusing debacle from the beginning and his presentation is sure to be a most enlightening affair.
Ehman has worked for each of the America’s Cup “Three Cs” — Conner, Cayard and Coutts — and in 1988 was the public face of San Diego Yacht Club’s controversial catamaran defense.
Today he once again finds himself wrapped in controversy as the America’s Cup spirals out of control in a string of legal battles.
After a New York court found Club N·utico Espa“ol de Vela invalid back in November, BMW/ Oracle Racing looked to get the event back on track, but Alinghi decided to appeal and continue fighting in the legal realm.
“Ideally, this should have been settled out of court,” said BMW/ Oracle’s Jane Eagleson when asked why this has gone on so long. “After the New York State Supreme Court decided in Golden Gate Yacht Club’s favor last November the defender [Alinghi] sought to re-argue the case based on technical points that should have been raised at the outset. These were all rejected, but caused another three months delay.
“Having challenged the validity of the protocol, GGYC [Golden Gate Yacht Club] offered ten mediators and two compromise proposals to get the event back on track, which had the support of a majority of challengers. Alinghi rejected these, usually without discussion.”
The founding fathers of the contest had considered that there would be times like these and wrote into the Deed of Gift that if no agreement can be found, the two boats should race each other, without any other competitors in a contest more strictly governed.
Long story short — the sailing world is awaiting a race between these two enemies, to be held in catamarans, that will decide who will hold the America’s Cup.
After this grudge match of all grudge matches is complete, theoretically the America’s Cup will regain its multinational reputation and global appeal. But there seem to be more struggles through the legal mire to endure before that happens.
To assist in understanding how such an important world event can find itself in such an embarrassingly tangled position, Ehman will certainly shed light in his April 29th presentation, scheduled to begin promptly at 7:30 p.m. The California Yacht Club is at 4469 Admiralty Way in Marina del Rey.