Ask any casual fan what the America’s Cup is and they may tell you it’s a match race, that it’s a yacht-designer’s forum and that it’s the oldest continuous trophy in international sporting history.
They might recollect the last Cup in 2007, sailed in Valencia, Spain, which many believe was the most successful Cup ever, with yachts competing from all over the world. But ask this fan about the status of the current Cup and they will likely get a confused answer.
That’s because as it presently stands, the 33rd America’s Cup is embroiled in a mire of legal mud so thick, no casual fan can keep up. In a whirlwind of unprecedented legal wrangling, the next America’s Cup has been reduced to a two-billionaire squabble that will ultimately be settled with a race between an enormous catamaran and an equally enormous trimaran.
Until that day, challenger BMW Oracle’s chief Larry Ellison and defender Alinghi’s Ernesto Bertarelli will be attacking each other at every legal turn, deepening a grudge to the depths no sport rivalry has ever known.
On Wednesday, November 18th at 7:30 p.m., Tom Ehman, who heads external affairs for BMW Oracle Racing, will once again visit the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, armed with the sights and sounds of his team’s preparation. Ehman will not only clarify what has happened, and why it happened, he also will provide unique insight as to what will happen as his syndicate finishes its preparation for the 33rd America’s Cup.
When Ehman visited Cal Yacht Club last year he had the same mission at hand — to clarify a very complicated mess to the America’s Cup fan. At the time he only alluded to any type of vessel the challenger might unveil, but now that boat is built — a carbon fiber trimaran the size of a baseball diamond — and by all accounts is a technological paragon, as is the competition’s masterwork.
Both syndicates have called upon the world’s finest designers and engineers to create boats that will travel at least twice the speed of the wind, carrying loads that would give any engineer wary of extreme loads nightmares. Those fears aside, what both teams have produced is nothing short of astonishing — boats that push the envelope in ways that will feed future designs for many years. In addition, the race itself could well be sailed at speeds of 30 to 40 knots as opposed to 8 to 15 of the mono-hulled past.
But it’s getting to the start-line that has been so frustrating for Cup fans and Ehman knows it. The charismatic spokesman is well aware of the damage it is causing to the storied event and will explain in great detail, with probably not a lot of objective balance, what is going on in this world of drama.
“Alinghi just can’t disregard the Deed of Gift time after time after time and expect not to have any consequences,” said Ehman in a recent interview with Valencia Sailing.
This is the basic stance that sits as a foundation beneath all the troubles that the two teams have encountered. Bertarelli/Alinghi have made decisions and moves that BMW Oracle Racing feels compelled to thwart not just for their own reasons, but, according to Ehman and the BOR camp, for the good of future Cup competitors.
“Ernesto Bertarelli has taken advantage of the Cup holder’s inherent competitive balance in the Deed of Gift to absurd and obscene levels,” commented Bill Koch, whose America3 team was the successful defender of the America’s Cup in 1992. “By his actions on land he has tried to make sure that he cannot be beaten on the water.”
Koch’s sentiments are felt by many American sailing enthusiasts, but there are those who believe that Ellison has taken his gripe too far and by doing so, brought the momentum the competition was enjoying to a screeching halt.
“I’m not quite sure what to think of it except that it’s put quite a lot of people out of a job,” said Dean Barker, skipper of Team New Zealand.
While both boats are built and testing for a February race date is underway, earlier this month Ellison took the gloves off and is making a legal play to have Alinghi removed from the administrative equation. A recent press release read:
“Reckless and repeated disregard in its stewardship of the America’s Cup by the Société Nautique de Geneve (SNG) has prompted the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) to ask the New York Supreme Court to remove the Swiss yacht club from its position as trustee in a Breach of Fiduciary Duty complaint filed today [October 27th].”
Ehman’s appearance in Marina del Rey will be most enlightening for those who follow the most relevant (and lately the most embarrassing) event in the sport of sailing. There is much to discuss and explain by a person who has been involved with the America’s Cup for decades.