Change of tack

Well, I guess the worst-case scenario developed for the America’s Cup… it seems that Alinghi and BMW Oracle will have a race, probably not much of a match, in multihulls some time in the next 18 months. The rest of the teams and all the corporate sponsors and all the fans of sailing will wait on the sidelines while these two play their game… or maybe not. More on that later. Justice Cahn has yet to finally rule on when the grudge match will take place. Alinghi get to decide where.

Throughout the months of last autumn, as the legal battle lumbered down the road of due process, several attempts were made, mostly by BMW Oracle, to settle. Naturally BMW had demands and, yes, they got a bit steeper after the judge ruled that they were right in their initial claim against the validity of the Spanish Challenger of Record’s yacht club. But I would say that most of those close to the discussions were reasonably impressed that the ‘demands’ of BMW Oracle were not as outrageous as one might have expected given the ‘power’ they attained as events developed.

Yet the demands were too much for Alinghi. My feeling is that Alinghi were willing to put the ball in play on a short cycle, 24 months, if they had the deck stacked in their favour… Therefore the original Protocol of 5 July 2007, with the new class of boat and the defender racing in the challenger selection series and managing all aspects of the event, including deciding how the challengers would organise their own selection series.

As the critics mounted in the weeks that followed, the Swiss were willing to concede some of those points and they did. But not sufficiently for BMW Oracle and really not enough for anyone looking at the event objectively. Alinghi would not bend beyond a certain point and they bet all their marbles that Justice Herman Cahn of the New York Supreme Court would substantiate the validity of Club Nautico Espa&ntilkde;ol de Vela as Challenger of Record and that Alinghi could then proceed with the event they wanted and BMW Oracle would have to beg to be allowed to enter.

As the months went on through the summer and into autumn, Russell Coutts, CEO of BMW Oracle, sifted through the 2007 team, discarded some people, hired some new ones and built a strong group all the way around. He then put the technical team to work, first on a catamaran and then on the AC 90 rule once it was made public on 31 October.

By 27 November, when Judge Cahn issued his ruling in favour of BMW Oracle, BMW Oracle were ahead in a race for 2009, no matter what the type of boat. I think Alinghi realised this and reversed their strategy. They were no longer interested in racing a multichallenger event in AC 90s in 2009. They would rather go for the freak show of a ‘one on one’ multihull race… sort of a throw of the dice.

So that is where we are heading… watching and waiting for one of these billionaires to get his way and then create an event that the rest of the world can compete in… a world of people who really enjoyed AC 32 (this is to Alinghi’s credit), and who are interested in developing and continuing relationships with corporations who have supported the sport and put their reputations on the line in a very public way. I know a lot of the existing teams are doing some serious dancing and shuffling for 2008 in an attempt to preserve these corporate relationships.

Desafio Español, like many of the 2007 teams, has had to create a new schedule for 2008. Since there is no America’s Cup in the calendar and no class of boat to train in, the operations in Valencia have been stopped. Instead, the sailing team will be kept active by racing on both the GP42 and TP52 circuits this summer.

The GP42 Quebramar already won last year’s circuit with Laureano Wizner, Santi Lopez and the Desafio team onboard. This group will continue for 2008.

Meanwhile, a new Judel-Vrolijk TP52 is being built in the Desafio shed in Valencia and will launch in late April. John Cutler and I, and 13 others from the team, will sail that boat in the MedCup. Sandro Benini and Nihat Aydin will design sails for both boats.

Both will be painted with Desafio livery including our main sponsor Iberdrola. Other components of Desafio will handle logistics, rule advising, coaching, physical training and other types of support for the two crews. In this way they will stay active in very competitive racing, carry on building a working relationship, keep the sponsors happy and in the public’s eye… and quite simply keep the team alive.

What else? I have started to revive a dream I had about this time last year but did not fulfil… to race with my children to Hawaii. Last year it would have been the Transpac, which, in odd numbered years, starts in Los Angeles. In even numbered years there is the Pacific Cup that starts in my hometown of San Francisco.

My son Danny is 19 and daughter Alexandra will be 18 soon. We will take a few of their friends and at least one more ‘experienced’ (nice way of saying older) person to round out the crew. Sailing out under the Golden Gate Bridge with the next landfall being Hawaii… is there any better dream than that?

Now I just have to buy a boat.