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4 November 2008, 02:10 pm
33rd America's Cup - The State of Play
The America's Cup
The America's Cup

33rd America's Cup

With the Golden Gate Yacht Club's appeal to the New York Court of Appeals pending, AC class regattas pencilled in for Valencia and Auckland and Alinghi 're-launching' the 33rd edition, just where do things stand with the America's Cup?
Ever since the Defender, Alinghi revealed the controversial Protocol for the 33rd America's Cup on 5 July 2007, the 33rd edition of the sporting world's longest continuously-running event has been shrouded in uncertainty. The legal battle between Alinghi and BMW ORACLE Racing continues to rumble on (more on that below), but after months dominated by lawsuits, appeals and giant multihulls, the Cup teams are finally set to go head-to-head against each other again with two regattas lined up for November and January in the ACC Version 5.0 boats used in the 32nd Cup cycle.

America's Cup Class Racing

The first, the Trofeo Desafio Espanol, will be held in Valencia, host city of the 32nd America's Cup, from 6-9 November. Four teams are set to competing in the America's Cup class programme, including three teams from the past Cup cycle, Alinghi (SUI-100), Desafío Español (ESP-97) and Luna Rossa (ITA-94) along with the newly launched British syndicate, TeamOrigin (ESP-88).

After a summer largely spent racing multihulls in the iShares Cup and D35 Challenge Julius Baer series, Alinghi strategist Murray JONES (NZL) is looking forward to getting back to what he knows best, "It's really good to be getting SUI-100 out of the shed to go racing again. I've really enjoyed the D35 sailing that I've been doing this year, but once you're back in a Cup environment again, you realise how special these things are. The planning, the preparation, the attention to detail; it's going to be great to get back on the water and do some racing again. I'm really looking forward to it," said JONES.

In February 2009, a far larger line up is set to compete at the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series held in Auckland, New Zealand, including Alinghi, BMW ORACLE Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand. Louis Vuitton announced the end to their association with the America's Cup and their 24-year sponsorship of the Challenger Selection Series in 2007, citing concerns with the protocol initially drawn up for the 33rd Cup and the increasingly commercial nature of the event. However, Bruno TROUBLÉ, founder of the Louis Vuitton Cup, is again one of the leading lights behind the new Louis Vuitton Pacific Series.

Competition in Auckland is to take place aboard two boats each from Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL 92 and NZL 84) and BMW ORACLE Racing (USA-87 and USA-97). At least six teams from the 32nd Cup cycle look set to compete, along with TeamOrigin, Australia First, led by 1983 Cup winning skipper John BERTRAND (AUS), and Team French Spirit. Rumours also point to possible entries from a second USA-based team led by Dennis CONNER (USA), and a Brazilian entry. The full line up of competing teams, currently said to be a total of 12, is scheduled to be announced at a press conference in Paris on 6 November.

Court Battles

Two months before it gets underway, the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series has already made at least one significant contribution to the 33rd Cup; removing one layer of litigation with Emirates Team New Zealand withdrawing their lawsuit against Alinghi in order to get the Swiss team to Auckland to compete in February.

"To us the success of the Louis Vuitton series is paramount," explained Emirates Team New Zealand managing director Grant DALTON (NZL). "It's important for the fraternity of yachting at the moment, it's important for Auckland to get a big event out on the harbour, and it's important for us as a team."

However, according to Alinghi skipper Brad BUTTERWORTH (NZL), Emirates nevertheless may face a penalty from the Arbitration Panel when the 33rd edition of Cup finally gets underway.

In addition to the ACC version 5 regattas, both Alinghi and BMW ORACLE Racing continue their multihull programmes in preparation for a possible 'Deed of Gift' match. BMW ORACLE Racing has already launched their spectacular 90ft trimaran, BMW ORACLE Racing 90, which is currently in its second phase of sea trials in San Diego. Alinghi is also building a 'Deed of Gift' multihull, although no provisional launch dates have been given. Whether or not these boats ever actually see any competitive racing depends largely on the outcome of the legal battle between the Société Nautique de Genève (team, Alinghi, run by President, Swiss billionaire Ernesto BERTARELLI) and the Golden Gate Yacht Club (team, BMW ORACLE Racing, owned by USA billionaire Larry ELLISON).

The Golden Gate Yacht Club took the Société Nautique de Genève to court back in July 2007, arguing that the protocol from Alinghi was unfair and that the Club Nautico Espanol de Vela (CNEV) is an invalid challenger. In court, the central issue has been the validity of CNEV as a challenger as defined by the Deed of Gift, the document which governs the America' Cup. The first ruling in the New York Supreme Court said the CNEV were not a valid challenger, the second in the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division said they were. Next it's the turn of the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state of New York, to decide.

Both sides, Société Nautique de Genève and the Golden Gate Yacht Club, have held several meetings together and repeatedly stressed their desire to find a resolution out of court and hold an event with a full challenger series. However, to date, a mutually agreeable solution has not been forthcoming and looks extremely unlikely. Therefore, everything appears to hang on the decision of the New York Court of Appeals. If they decide the CNEV are not a valid challenger and instate the Golden Gate Yacht Club as Challenger of Record, it appears almost certain that Alinghi and BMW ORACLE Racing will do battle in a one-off, best-of-three match in 90ft multihulls, although when and where is still unclear. If the Court rule the CNEV is a valid challenger, then a new protocol, currently being devised by Alinghi, is set to come into action.

'Re-Launching' The 33rd Edition

On 22 October, Alinghi announced it is 're-launching' the 33rd America's Cup, re-opening entry and devising a new protocol. The intention is to draw up a new class rule to be used for a Match in Valencia in 2010, with the current ACC version 5 yachts used for a series of pre-regattas in 2009. "The concept for discussion with entered challengers is to design a boat that is faster and more spectacular than the old V5 ACC but significantly cheaper than the AC90 defined in 2007 under very different economic circumstances," explained Alinghi skipper BUTTERWORTH.

As part of this 're-launching' process, Alinghi is holding a series of Competitor Meetings. The first was attended by 11 challengers, five of whom competed in the 32nd Cup, at the Société Nautique de Genève at the end of October. The next is scheduled for 11 November. In addition to reviewing the ideas for re-launching the 33rd Cup, the 11 challengers also all signed a joint request asking BMW ORACLE Racing and the Golden Gate Yacht Club to withdrawal their lawsuit. In response, Tom EHMAN, spokesperson of the Golden Gate Yacht Club, said, "We have offered repeatedly to drop our lawsuit if Alinghi commits to fair rules, and our offer still stands. We would like nothing better than to have a fully competitive multi-challenger America's Cup on the water by 2010. We stand ready and willing to meet with Alinghi and all of the other competitors to discuss the future of the Cup, but without unreasonable pre-conditions."

So the future of the 33rd America's Cup remains clouded in uncertainty, but at least in the break between court proceedings, there is now an opportunity to see the Cup teams in action against each other for the first time since the 32nd America's Cup Match ended on 3 July 2007.

Racing in Valencia at the Trofeo Desafio Espanol begins this Thursday 6 November with the practice race for the America's Cup class yachts. A fleet race will be held on Friday, followed by match racing over the weekend.
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