Yesterday, Ernesto Bertarelli sent an open letter outlining his vision for the America's Cup.
That letter, immediately, caused consternation in the sailing world, so BYM News asked Alinghi for an interview with someone who could provide background details.
Grant Simmer talked to Marian Martin.
BYM News: The letter from Ernesto was a bolt out of the blue; we always knew he had a vision about making the Cup more accessible to all, but this seems to go a lot further. Can you explain how all this arose?
Grant Simmer: It arose when he was in the New York Yacht Club in October and they were talking about these issues of the Cup being held up, or hijacked by the court proceedings and how we needed to modernise the Cup so we could stop this happening in the future. Also the problem is that, when you win and become the Defender, you then have to set up a venue where the Cup will be held and that takes a long time, so there’s this huge uncertainty and often the teams can’t survive more than one time and can’t get sponsors, because they don’t know what the next Cup’s going to look like. Also employment contracts are only for one cycle. These are fundamental problems with the event.
It took us four years, before we could get things going properly in Valencia, get the port set up and run an event of the magnitude of the 32nd America’s Cup. That’s one example of that, another is when New Zealand won, in ’95, there was a five year wait for the next Cup and this is something we wanted to get over. So, what Ernesto is saying is that the Defender has to give away some of his rights, to allow that to happen, because the way the Cup works now the Defender can take it anywhere he likes and make the rules with the Challenger of Record. Of course, you select a Challenger of Record who agrees with what you want, which is the fundamental issue of the dispute with BMW Oracle.
Yes, I can see that, but we were talking to Marcus Hutchinson a few weeks ago in Barcelona and he was adamant that all these millionaires and billionaires that support the America’s Cup did so because part of the prize was being able to run the next one in their place and according to their vision. Aren’t you going to destroy that element of the Cup?
Well, let’s take the case of Sir Keith Mills. When he enters the America’s Cup, he would say to the other competitors “We’d really like to hold the America’s Cup in the UK, but we don’t think we could be ready for the next one, because it wouldn’t give enough time to set up things with the city and get all the contracts signed, but we could do it the time after. So this process would enable him to get the event to the UK simply by entering the event and participating in it, so long as he can put forward a proposal that’s interesting to all the competitors, they would all pack up shop and move to the new venue.
Look at the example of BMW Oracle at the moment. They’re already saying that, rather than take the Cup to America, if they were successful in the 33rd Cup, they would hold the 34th in Valencia. You’d think that an American would want to take the Cup to America, but no. I can only think they are saying to themselves “If it’s in two years time, that doesn’t give us enough time to establish a set up in the States of the sort we’ve seen in Valencia.” So, they’re probably thinking if we can win the 33rd, we could win the 34th and then take it to America. I don’t know what they think, but there must be some reason they want to hold it in Valencia and I can only assume because they know they couldn’t get an event of this magnitude organised in time. As I said earlier, it took 4 years to select Valencia and get it ready and it took the New Zealanders five years to get Auckland ready. That’s not great for the sponsors, the people involved and not good for the event.
Coming back to BMW Oracle; it’s confusing that Ehman has been quoted as saying “This letter has come out of the blue, without any forewarning.”, which doesn’t seem to fit with Ernesto and Larry having a talk at the weekend and Larry being supportive. Can you explain how we seem to be getting two versions?
Well, Larry and Ernesto did talk and the New York Yacht Club has been talking to the two and they’ve very much expressed their support.
Are they aware of the details, or just a broad concept?
No, no, like I said it started in October and since then there have been more meetings and discussions. This has got a long way to go, because we have to create a balance between maintaining the history of the America’s Cup, the uniqueness and the appeal of the Cup, together with modernising it.
You’ve hit a nail on the head when you mention “appeal”, because to a lot of people the appeal of the Cup is that its about Alpha males wanting to win it and that there’ve always been arguments and, perhaps above all, there has always been the uncertainty of not knowing how well the Defender will do in the match. The way Ernesto sees it, that element of uncertainty will completely go, if it becomes a Defender & Challengers contest.
Yes, but that’s what we’d planned for the 33rd Cup, where the Defender would have been sailing among the Challengers, up to the finals and the Challengers had agreed to that. The fact is that, in the 32nd Cup, both Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa sailed against us several times and it was a pretty good gauge of our performance. Also, we were sailing in the ACTs and people were measuring relative performance there too.
It’s a balance and, if the Defender stands aside the costs of defending are enormous, because he has to simulate what is going on in the Challenger series and that is an unrealistic financial burden on any Defender, if the Defender is going to be competitive.
When you talk about the Governance becoming permanent, what exactly do you mean?
The proposal that Ernesto has been discussing is that the past Trustees of the Cup would be responsible for the Governance of it. At the moment, there are 5 starting with the NYYC and ending with SNG. They would be involved in the planning of the events, but obviously you would need an event management company as well.
Once again though, doesn’t that take away the pleasure of knowing that, if you win the Cup, you are going to take over organising it and running it your way.
True, true. You would now share that responsibility, but let’s say Team Origin won it, their yacht club would become part of the Trustee group that is responsible for the governance of it. Another good thing is that dispute resolution would be the responsibility of that group and wouldn’t get caught up in the legal system.
Talking about the legal system, presumably you can’t change the Deed of Gift without the New York Supreme Court’s authority.
I don’t know actually, whether it can be done by the Attorney General, or whether you’d have to go to the Supreme Court. Anyway, whichever it is, if the first Trustee, the present Trustee and the present Challenger of Record are all supporting the change, it would be pretty difficult for the legal system not to agree to that. That’s just my opinion though, I don’t know what a lawyer would say.
Isn’t changing a Deed of Gift is a bit like changing someone’s will after they are dead?
Don’t forget that the New York Yacht Club was the first Trustee, even though it was written by George Schuyler, it was done in the New York Yacht Club with them as the Trustee. So the dead person is still alive, but in a different form.
Changes to the Deed of Gift that have been permitted by the NYSC in the past have always been about things where circumstances have changed in a way that Schuyler couldn’t have foreseen and that make it impractical to comply with the Deed. This seems different; it isn’t that anything is difficult to comply with, is it?
Look at any modern protocol, since San Diego, and you won’t see many similarities with the Deed of Gift. They are carefully written, not to conflict with the Deed of Gift, but they go way far and beyond to create an event that was never envisaged when the Deed was written.
Even so, this used to be a Defender and Challenger series and now it’s going to be “We had a World Champion last year and now we’re starting the next Formula One series and someone else is going to be World Champion”. The feedback we are getting is “That isn’t the America’s Cup.”
It’s not the historical America’s Cup, but if you look at the way it was going to be sailed in AC33, with the Challengers and Defender racing together until the Challenger final, that’s a different format from what’s been seen in the past and could be a format that could work in the future.
Anyway, I don’t think people need to get too hung up over that; we are only talking about some pretty early discussions with the NYYC and no actual details have been thrashed out. The only thing that has been agreed is the intent to solve what has been perceived as a problem. We still have to get onto how to resolve it and the resolution will be defined between these parties – NYYC, Defender and Challenger of Record – and it will have to be a balance between maintaining the history and ushering in a modern era.
We know from our server logs that the America’s Cup grabs public imagination and has a large following among non-sailors, but events like TP52 don’t. Aren’t you in danger of turning the Cup into just another yachting series that only yachtsmen are interested in?
I don’t think so, I believe the America’s Cup will retain its stature, though that will depend on what the final event looks like. Also, although it would move around from country to country, it would stay in one country for some time. We aren’t talking about having a circuit like Formula One or the football World Championship. We are talking about having a group of teams going collectively around the world and competing in the America’s Cup.
The goal is to try to get some continuity going in the event and not allow it to go on in this stop-start fashion.
Let’s come onto Deed of Gift Challenge or conventional AC 33. Which will it be?
We have several options. One is to appeal and we have 30 days from when the court order is issued, which will probably be next week. Another is finding a solution with BMW Oracle and holding an event, probably in 2011, and the third one is the Deed of Gift match, based on their challenge of July, defining a boat that is 90 by 90 and which they’ve been working on. We know they signed up some multihull designers – Van Peteghem and Lauriot Prévost - in July and a team headed up by Franck Cammas and are designing a multihull.
These multihulls, like Groupama 3, are all designed for one purpose only; to go round the world at an average speed of around 24 knots. They are all purpose boats, so how can they design something for a venue where they don’t know what conditions would be like?
It’s a risk that they take, they’re out to design a very, very powerful multihull and it’s up to them to decide how much they want to put out to do that.
Is there any truth in the rumour that Brad Butterworth is about to resign from Alinghi?
Not that I know of. He’s doing a regatta in the States and I spoke to him yesterday. He was at the New York Yacht Club meeting, last Thursday night, so I don’t know where that one came from.
So what’s the next step?
As I said, the court will provide its order next week, then we’ll know exactly what we’ve got to do. Then next week we are going to meet with Oracle and see if we can come to a resolution. In the meantime, we have to start thinking about catching up on a multihull programme.
What about the Hydroptère, would you use that?
No, it’s not a boat that was designed for a windward leeward course.
Finally, how do the Alinghi team members really feel about all this?