Battle lines are drawn
July 25, 2007, 8:56 pm
Filed under: America's Cup, Tosh, Uncategorized

So, the battle lines are drawn. Whatever happens, there will be blood on the carpet as Larry Ellison, boss of the California-based Oracle software house, says he cannot accept the terms of the next America’s Cup as drawn up by the pharmceuticals billionaire from Switzerland, Ernesto Bertarelli.

This is no longer a contest on the water, it is only perpherally about yachting. It is a battle of wills and Ellison has taken the big risk of throwing down, very publicly, a legal gauntlet. He didn’t even do that very well, as the technicalities of serving the petition in the New York Supreme Court ran into problems. But the Golden Gate Yacht Club, which does his bidding, will get it right and then the Société Nautique de Geneve will have 30 days to respond.

The first hurdle that Ellison’s lawyers will have to clear is that the deal with the challenger of record, the recently-formed Club Nautico Espanol de Vela, is invalid, though the court could find this is ok and still rule that the GGYC challenge in 90×90 catamarans should go ahead.

As Team New Zealand has joined CNEV, South Africa’s Shosholoza and the UK’s Origin in challenging under the protocol which Ellison finds so objectionable, the divide and rule principle seems to be working.

At the shambolic press conference organised to announce that the €105m bid from Valencia (40% Madrid, 40% region, 20% city) was successful, so the rallying calls of support for the CNEV and Spain’s national governing body which spawned it, the Desafio Espanol, were thumped onto the table by regional president Francesco Camps, Valencia mayor Rita Barberá, and national government minister of public administration Elena Salgado. One curious precursor was a stone-faced Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth asking the Luna Rossa lawyer Luis Saenz to leave. “We are on different sides,” he said. 

 America’s Cup Management ceo Michel Bonnefous was on hand to say he hoped to organise the best America’s Cup ever and remind Salgado, when she said that only a preliminary agreement had been signed, that this was a binding agreement. As the Madrid parliament is in summer recess it cannot be formalised until September.

Ernesto Bertarelli started slowly, saying that there would be two regattas next year, the first, in the spring, in Valencia and the second, in the autumn, to be announced, but in Europe. AC 33 trials would begin in April 2009, the class rule for the new 90-footer would be published by October 31 this year and teams, although they could build two hulls, could only sail one at a time. No two-boat testing, no side-by-side testing with other syndicates except when taking part in an ACM-organised regatta.

The same rules would applly to Alinghi – though how far they are already ahead with design work was not mentioned – and if the defender was eliminated from the challenger trials it would no longer be able to test against others. Alinghi would, in any case, not be able to contest the challnger finals. Big deal.

He said that an independent arbitration panel would be appointed as would an independent jury. Who will make the appointments –  why ACM of course, which is wholly owned by Bertarelli.

He then started laying into Ellison. “It seems like having failed to win on the water, twice, he is trying to win it in court,” was the gist of what he said. This was a “great disappointment” and the bid to race exclusively, without other challengers being involved, “is unacceptable.” The answer was, he said, to refer the matter to the arbitration panel, not the New York court. “We have no interest in racing in a 90-foot multihull,” he said, adding that Ellison’s move was creating huge insecurity, not least for those challenger syndicates trying to raise sponsorship finance. And it was damaging ‘the America’s Cup brand’.

Mayor Barberá said she would support the Desafio and protect the rights of the Desafio as challenger of record. She was happy to hear that Ellison was saying he liked Valencia and invited Ellison “to give up all this litigation and we will welcome him with open arms.” Salgado, a socialist party government minister, gritted her teeth and chimed in with support for the opposition People’s Party mayor.

Behind the scenes the councils of war are in daily session. If Ellison thinks he can head a tight union of dissent he has to be deluding himself. Every syndicate will put self-interest first and do what they think is best for themselves. If Ellison can squeeze out some benefit then so be it. But they would expect him to be equally tough if he were to win the cup.

Ellison had, the previous day, taken the trouble to fly into Valencia to present his latest prize, the former Alinghi skipper Russell Coutts, as the chief executive office and skipper to replace Chris Dickson. He held centre stage in the cinema/theatre for most of a hastily-organised press conference and engineered the first crack at occupying the moral high ground by calling for a committee of challengers to agree mutually a design rule for the next cup, to call for the race officials,umpires and jury to be completely independent, and that any legitimate yacht club should have thr right to enter a team in the challenger series. “Right now, the Alinghi protocol gives Alinghi sole discretion to throw out any challenger they don’t like for any reason. This is unfair and unacceptable,” he said.

Why should he say this? Because, and it dependes on which version you believe, either Ellison called Bertarelli or Bertarelli called Ellison but the outcome was that Bertarelli warned Ellison that a Golden Gate Yacht Club Challenge would not be accepted. Asked the same question at the press conference the following day, Bertarelli said: “No comment.”

Whether Bertarelli would defend a catamaran challenge, and whether that would be in Valencia, is unkown. But, if Ellison goes down the New York Supreme Court route, only one will be left standing. Great soap opera script material. Not great sport.   


8 Comments so far
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Thanks, Stuart. Hope you keep this coverage coming.

Comment by Roger Vaughan


Good piece!!


Comment by Lee Tawney

It seems that we are heading back to Faye-Richwhite days when NZ tried to get the Cup with a Monster yacht and Dennis Conner raced in a Catamaran. It also seems that Ellison is a poor loser and cannot or will not accept being beaten by a better prepared team. and I dare say will do anything he can to get the Cup back ie; the New York Supreme Court. What should happen is that all interested parties (Defender and those accepted and paid as challengers) strike an even playing field relative to the design of the yacht. It seems that ever since the first challenge the defender has set the rules for the next challenge and I seem to remember that the American defenders were allowed all sorts of advantages such as sail cloth, crew nationality, etc when the Brits, Swedes, Aussies, Italians and Kiwis were all trying to win the “Auld Mug” from them. It seems destined to be won by those who have the most money to pay lawyers in an endeavour to satisfy their ego alone and stuff everyone else who is seeking an honest and open competition that recognises yacht design and building and the resources, skill, daring and courage of the sailing teams competing.

Comment by Nicholas Crawley

Alinghi has accepted an invalid challenge from a sham yacht club in order to enhance their own position. If they wanted a weak partner, why not choose one of the other lower end teams from this year (Shosholoza, United Internet)? What Alinghi is doing smells to high heaven (ask Louis Vuitton). I wish Ellison luck.

Comment by Peter

Nicholas Crawley states that “..American defenders were allowed all sorts of advantages such as sail cloth, crew nationality, etc…”. Not so. The rules essentially stated that each country’s boat had to be built in its entirety in that country, and sailed only by citizens of that country. i.e., if your country does not build spars, make sailcloth, winches, ropes, etc., don’t bother challenging. What was wrong with that? Blame the current ills of the AC on commercialism and greed.

Comment by Jack Engel

Bertarelli would have us believe he has the moral high ground in this matter. Crap! Why not call Ellison’s bluff and continue with the same formula that worked so well previously? – because he knows that Team NZ were getting too close for comfort.
As for Brad Butterworth, down here in Kiwi Land he’s known as Dennis Conner junior.

Comment by Geoff

[…] busy and it seems that things aren’t going to quiet down any time soon. So take a look at this write up on what’s going on (found via sas). It puts everything into context and the next few months […]

Pingback by AC developments - interesting at

Sending the America’s Cup to the American Court system is the obvious solution. I mean it worked out well in selecting a President didn’t it? I’ve been saying this for months…steel boats and canons..last one floating wins. As always, the only real winners will be the lawyers.

Comment by Lyn Hines

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