Anyone who follows the America’s Cup likely has a headache the size of Texas and more than a few empty bottles of Aspirin kicking around the floor. And given the legal shenanigans involved, who wouldn’t? The good news is that it finally looks as though the Cup is on track to be raced in February at a venue that both parties can agree upon.
Astute Cup fans will baulk at this last sentence, as many publications, including SAIL, ran stories declaring the United Arab Emirates country of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) to be the battleground chosen by Alinghi for their defense. Reportedly, the tiny nation next door to Iran has spent more than $120 million preparing for the Cup, building infrastructure and signing international deals.
Slight problem: While RAK’s intentions were undoubtedly good, they chose the wrong bedfellow, as Alinghi misinterpreted the Deed of Gift, the document that governs how the Cup must be raced. The Deed explicitly says that any Deed of Gift Challenge (DoG; a two-boat, best-of-three match race) that is to be contested in the winter months must take place in the Southern Hemisphere. In early November Justice Shirley Kornreich agreed with BMW/Oracle that Alinghi’s choice venue was outside of the Cup’s rules, and was therefore an unacceptable location for a February America’s Cup.
In May of 2008 Justice Cahn, then a New York Supreme Court judge, allowed that the Cup, which must be held this February according to the Deed of Gift, could also be raced in Valencia, Spain (home of the 32nd Defense), provided that both parties agreed to the venue. Justice Kornreich upheld Justice Cahn’s decision regarding Valencia, and handed the decision back to Alinghi and BMW/Oracle to sort out. After much speculation regarding the possibility of the east coast of Australia as the location (Alinghi wanted to hold it there), the two teams announced in mid November that the 33rd Cup will be contested in Valencia, Spain, this February.
It’s clear that this is a victory for Larry Ellison’s BMW/Oracle syndicate. Early speculation holds that since BMW/Oracle did not know the location of the match when designing their boat, they built a racing machine that could handle a wide range of conditions. Alinghi’s designers, on the other hand, obviously planned for RAK and thus designed a light-air machine, as RAK historically does not see airs over about 8 – 10 knots in February.
Valencia, however, is a different story.
And while it’s tempting to declare BMW/Oracle the outright winner of the last few months worth of AC bickering, they too lost some blood, but on the water, not the courtroom. Earlier this month BMW/Oracle lost its rig while sailing off San Diego. This was one of three masts that the team had been testing, each progressively bigger than the one before, with the now broken rig—estimated to cost some $10M including sails and rigging—the biggest of the lot.
Just days later BMW/Oracle released images of what waslikely the worst-kept secret in Cup circles in years: a wing sail. Wing master David Hubbard (yes, the same David Hubbard who brought us a hard wing sail in the last DoG match, in 1988) worked with BMW/Oracle as a consultant on this project. The new wing sail which is rumored to have taken 20,000 man-hours to build, looks impressive, , but the are some serious logistical hurdles, most notably stepping and unstepping the beast before and after each sailing day.
It’s rumored that Alinghi have also been working with top wing consultants for months, but BMW/Oracle now has the psychological advantage..
So, for any Cup fans who had bought airline tickets to RAK, it’s past time to call your travel agent and see if you can instead fly to Spain. While it’s not likely to be as warm on the water as RAK would have been, you can bet that the on-the-water battle will be heated. But the real question remains: Will the 33rd America’s Cup be a battle of multihulls that are powered by hard sails? If so, this is one for the record books… as well as the law books.