Team Shosholoza boss, Salvatore Sarno, talks to Marian Martin about the next America's Cup.
Last week, you told a Spanish newspaper that you were convinced that the problems surrounding the protocol for the next Cup would be solved very soon. What makes you believe that?
"I don’t think the protocol is yet completed fully. I sat on the Challengers’ Commission of the last Cup for 3 years and things often got changed, when a majority wanted change."
Why have you entered now?
"Firstly, I had to come to Geneva, for a meeting that was planned a month ago, so it was a good opportunity to make the entry at the same time, but that is just a small reason.
Shosholoza is a small team, the new event will be in Valencia, in 2009, of that I feel sure. That means we need to move now to get sponsors. Maybe it is alright for a big team to get support before it is an official entrant, but it is not the case for a small team. I have five big South African companies that I want to approach right away and I know that, if I go to them and say “I have this project ….” They will laugh; if I go to them and say “Team Shosholoza is a challenger for the 33rd America’s Cup”, they will take me seriously and will listen. They may not sponsor us, I know that to get 2 sponsors I am likely to have to visit 50 companies, but at least a challenger will be listened to. Especially because, by keeping the team together I can show them that we already have an investment. We have RIBS, we have a ready to go base, we have a boat, we have a key team.”
"Above all, Team Shosholoza has a following, it grew in popularity, over the last Cup, but people have short memories and I want to go ahead right away, so we can build on that popularity."
Why were you convinced it would be in Valencia, in 2009, at the time you entered?
"The America’s Cup is a business and I think Ernesto Bertarelli is a very good businessman. The next America’s Cup cannot be held at a venue that is not as good as the place where the 32nd Cup was held. There is no venue that could be better than Valencia as early as 2009, so it has to be Valencia, or a Cup in 2011. Any businessman that has just run a very profitable venture, would want to have another one as soon as possible. It makes sense, so I was sure it would be 2009, in Valencia."
Didn’t Bertarelli’s visits to Italy bring you any doubts?
"People speculated that he went to Italy and met with Prodi because he was thinking of taking the Cup there, but I never accepted that view. I think he went to look and talk about venues for ACTs, but maybe also to put a bit of pressure on Valencia!"
Do you think Valencia will have got a good deal, if it pays €110 million this time?
"I’m sure there has been some hard negotiating, but it will not have been as one sided as some people think. For example, AC Management does not own the bases, the City of Valencia owns them; the City of Valencia also knew that it was the only realistic venue for a 2009 Cup. Valencia held a lot of cards and when it signs the contract I’m sure it will be satisfied with the terms."
How do you feel about the new class of boat?
I will let you into a secret, when I first thought about entering the 32nd America’s Cup I was quite sure there would be a new class; a bigger, faster boat. I wanted that, because it would have put a small team like Shosholoza on a more equal footing with the big teams. I was really surprised when the boats were more, or less the same as before – the only real difference being a ton less in the bulb.
Our naval architect, Jason Ker, certainly isn’t making any drama about the new boat and the fact that we don’t yet have details. He is absolutely convinced that, as soon as we have the details, he can come up with a great design very quickly. In fact, he is very excited and is already working on ideas for the sliding keel mechanism. It is better for everyone that we start from scratch.
Do you think that this time you will have enough money to do better?
I don’t think money is as important as some others do. Look at Larry Ellison, he spent a great deal more than Shosholoza and where did he finish? Just one step ahead of us. And it wasn’t much of a step ahead, because he lost every race and a lot of face.
MSC is, more or less, certain to be with us again and we will carry on where we left off and do better, because we have learned a lot.
Do you think the Golden Gate court case will go ahead?
I hope not, I don’t want this to get to a situation like the one with Dennis Connor, but, you know, the America’s Cup has a long history of involvement with lawyers. At the beginning of the last campaign, someone from Prada asked “Who is Team Shosholoza’s lawyer?” and when I said we didn’t have one he said “You’re mad, the first thing any America’s Cup entrant must do is engage the best lawyer possible.”
I don’t think I’m mad, I’m a director of the world’s second largest shipping company and it is only in the last 5 years that MSC has had its own lawyer. For the first 25 years, it just went to a lawyer when one was needed. My business philosophy is that if it is wrong, it is wrong and you should not do it. If it is wrong, having a clever lawyer argue otherwise does not make it right.
I’m not sure why Ellison has brought the court case; if it is because he wants to be CoR, I think he could have achieved that, without suing Alinghi. If, as I expect, the difficulties over the protocol are resolved soon, I’m not absolutely sure whether he will withdraw, unless he becomes CoR. I think it could depend on whether he really believes he can win the case.
What is your view of CNEV?
CNEV does not have the required qualifications to be CoR in my opinion. When I entered last time I had to provide a lot of details about the Royal South African Yacht Club, including evidence about its regattas on the sea, so one would have expected that this applied to Desafio Espanol.
You know though that Desafio was not represented by a qualified yacht club last time and, for three or four months, the Challenger’s Commission protested this. In the end, everyone agreed to accept it, for the sake of camaraderie; especially as the King of Spain felt it was a reasonable solution to the problems between the Barcelona and Valencia Yacht Clubs.
Can you sum up what you think will happen?
As I’ve said, I believe most of the issues will be resolved quite soon and, on balance, I think Larry Ellison will withdraw the court case then, but we’ll know more after he speaks this evening.
There will continue to be complaints that Alinghi has too much control, but that’s always been true of America’s Cup defenders. Alinghi controlled the 32nd America’s Cup and it was a big success, but that does not mean that Alinghi’s decisions were always right, nor that it didn’t go against the collective will of the challengers. For example, in December 2004, everyone said “Let us not have Round Robins in April, because the wind isn’t reliable then and often there is no wind.”, but we had Round Robins in April and, on several days, there was no wind!
What have you to say to those bloggers who have called you Alinghi’s poodle for entering?
Is that what they’ve said (laughs), I hadn’t heard that! I’ve already told you why I’ve entered Shosholoza, so there’s nothing more to be added. The thing is that some people see the America’s Cup as being about endless intrigue, people make up improbable stories; like divers, with special long range cameras, swimming around taking pictures of keels and that sort of thing. The reality is that it’s all very much more straightforward.
Thank you Captain Sarno for talking to BYM News.
Thank you, Marian.