The real deal
July 7, 2007, 4:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

After an amazing journey of 1,000kms west from Valencia via Madrid and an overnight in the magnificent 14th century castle parador hotel in Caceres there is a complete change of mood in Cascais, Portugal at the ISAF world championships of sailing. All 11 Olympic classes are holding their world championships concurrently over 10 days in a venue which not only bid to stage the recently-completed America’s Cup but which is still spitting tacks about the way in which it feels it was treated when the nod went to Valencia.

There are 1,390 competitors from 76 countries here, so, if you really want to know where your country stands in the pecking order of international sailing then this is it. Doubtless there is still a lot of commerical wheeling and dealing in the background and there will be all sorts of squabbles over who has the right to broadcast what and to whom. Sailing still thinks it has major appeal even on a weekend when the Wimbledon titles are being settled and the Formula 1 circus moves to Silverstone. More evangelism, please. 

 Still, where there is a buck to be made opinions are often sold cheaply, but the sailing retains its integrity and the cream always rises to the top. With Robert Scheidt more than challenging the legend-in-his-own-lifetime Torben Grael for the Brazilian slot in the Star class there may also be some validity to the argument that having what should be a breezy venue to decide 75 per cent.of the national qualification places for a Qingdao where the breeze could not often blow the skin off a rice pudding.

There was considerable apprehension when the first of these jamborees was staged near Cadiz and lots of financial support had to be found. Now the national delegations are lobbying ISAF for the right to stage the 2011 event, including one led by Alinghi coach and former America’s Cup skipper Peter Gilmour. But that would be Perth, up the river, not Fremantle, where the breeze and waves would be a major test for the dinghy bretheren.

One problem, apart from the unreliable communications structure and the erratic results service, is that the racing can continue until 21.00 which, for an event that wants to say it wishes to communicate with the world in a big way, is far better for the Americas or even the breakfast shows in the far East and Australasia.

Still it is a breath of fresh air after the fetid atmosphere in Valencia which became even worse when the protocol for the next event was unveiled. Control of the competitors and supposedly independent bodies like the race committee, jury and race officer were bad enough. The emasculation of challenger independence was also taken a painful stage further and the any semblance of fair competition brutally destroyed.

At the same time how must the poor German team feel about having recently applied for a sail number for a new boat without being told that a new design was round the corner? Well, perhaps not too bad as much of the qualification racing will be in the old version five boats we saw this time. Nevertheless, such sneaky secretiveness, while tank testing the new design themselves, hardly qualifies Alinghi for a sportsmanship award; and it means the challengers have to run two campaigns at once, one in the old boat while working up a second in the new design.

One man who is happy – and is sailing a Star for his home country, Argentina, in Cascais – is ABN Amro and BMW Oracle designer Juan Kouyoumdjian. He expects the new boat to be about 15 or 16 tonnes, as opposed to the 24 of the shorter 80-footer, knew that the tank testing in Canada was underway, and can look forward to being in demand again. So, at least the design race element of the America’s Cup continues and naturally he is happy about that. As for the rest, it is time someone found a way of reining in what the Italians are describing as the “military dictatorship” of Alinhgi and its wholly-owned subsidiary, America’s Cup Management. But don’t look to the world governing body. It cannot control its own sport from marauders.


All power corrupts
July 4, 2007, 11:16 am
Filed under: America's Cup, Tosh

At last it’s over and so it has begun. The America’s Cup always was like no other sports event but now it is to be so different as to be weird. In no other sport would even a governing body try to control the activities of the clubs that take part, never mind one individual control the affairs of all the competitors and charge them for making him money. But that is what is happening in the America’s Cup as America’s Cup Management, which is wholly owned by defence syndicate backer Ernesto Bertarelli, issues not only a new protocol for America’s Cup 33 but a participation agreement for the challenger syndicates that will handcuff them completely. What may be good is that the experiment with taking regattas to host ports around Europe was such a success that it will be expanded – though how much compulsion there will be or whether they will count for a seeding system is yet to be unveiled. What is for sure is that such a level of dictatorship has to be either very self-disciplined or be transparently vulnerable to outside influence.

All chilled out in Valencia
July 1, 2007, 3:55 pm
Filed under: America's Cup

The America’s Cup went into a two-day holding pattern, the Spanish royal family helicopter for Prince Felipe remained grounded in Madrid, elaborate prize-giving ceremonies were abruptly guillotined, hundreds and hundreds of bottles of Moet were left in the chiller and Grant Dalton was able to celebrate his 50th birthday without tears yesterday.
The seventh race of the best-of-nine, with the defender Alinghi sitting on match point at 4-2, was abandoned as the wind was so soft and variable that race officer Peter Reggio pulled the plug 45 minutes before the time limit.
Team New Zealand, of which Dalton is boss, lives to fight not just another day but two, as there is no racing scheduled for Monday. The forecast is much more optimistic for both Tuesday and Wednesday.
Both TNZ strategist Ray Davies and Alinghi design co-ordinator Grant Simmer said they were content. “We are happy with the decision and we’ve just got to get ready for Tuesday,” said Simmer, adding that the difference between winning and losing often came down to just a few metres of advantageous boat position.
“It’s probably good to have a little bit of a breather,” said Davies, who has seen his team lose three in a row.