A few weeks ago, Alinghi re-launched the 33rd America’s Cup, re-opening the entry list, and invited the challengers for a series of meetings to develop the next event ‘with no strings attached’.
Sébastien Destremau caught up with TeamOrigin CEOn Mike Sanderson, by phone to get his views on the current situation and the TeamOrigin's future plans.
SD: Mike, it must be a bit of change for you to be doing office works when lots of your friends are sailing the Volvo at the moment. How does it feel?
Mike Sanderson: Yeah, for sure I have many great memories with the boys and I really enjoyed the last race but most importantly I love challenges. The America’s Cup is a huge one and I am very comfortable with what I am doing now here at Team Origin
SD: We saw TeamOrigin sailing in the CNEV annual regatta on an ACC version 5 yacht. What was your position on board? Can you describe what the experience was like?
MS: I love the physical side of racing so I enjoyed doing the runners. Having four boats out there was fantastic and although we said prior to the event that it was going to be ‘laid back’ sort of racing, I can assure you that the four teams were racing really hard. It was the first time we had so many of our sailing team together and this was very beneficial for us. Definitively worth it. We have a great bunch of people who really enjoy each other’s company. I am very fussy about having the right sort of people in the team so it was great that we went well and had a good time.
SD: We were privileged to witness the four America’s Cup team returning on the water for the first time since July 2007. After a few hiccups on race one when the Defender ripped no less than two spinnakers, Alinghi’s Team showed their strength in winning all remaining races on SUI 100. It looks like she’s got some good legs this one!. Any comments on that?
MS: (Laughs) You’re dead right there. Smooth sailing, very well organized. The only thing with Murray (Jones) driving was that he was not up the mast to avoid the spinnaker being caught in the rig!
SD: Moving along those lines, some well regarded America’s Cup personalities suggested that in order to save costs, the 33rd America’s Cup should be sailed in IACC version 5. How do you feel about this idea?
MS: V5? No way! They should have come to Valencia earlier this month to see for themselves. Alinghi’s got way too much of an advantage in this type of boat. They are incredibly quick and an America’s Cup in a IACC V5 would be harder for any Challenger to win especially the newcomers. To level the playing field and in order to have a chance to win the Cup, it’s a good thing to change the boat. It has just also happened in Formula One, Ferrari and McLaren were too strong, so the authorities have changed the rules. In a more drastic way actually!
SD: So if I hear you correctly, we are actually lucky the Defender’s insisting on changing the boat. Going back to Team Origin, how many people are employed at the moment?
MS: It not an easy one. Our plan was to have over 100 people working with us by February of this year. It’s obviously not the case as the goal posts have been changing all the time. The way we are handling the situation is by calling upon our team members depending on what is on the agenda. Two weeks ago we had nearly the complete sailing team. Now, our design team is working on developing the new boat. Tomorrow, we’ll have to focus on something else involving other team members. We like to think that all of our people as team members of TeamOrigin even if we are not full time at the moment.
SD: What are TeamOrigin's immediate plans?
MS: Working very hard with the Defender and the other Challengers to have a successful 33rd America’s Cup. You know, we have been given the opportunity to participate in the building process of this great event. More so in my opinion than has ever happened before so we are certainly focusing on that at the moment.
SD: The defender and the challengers are discussing the next America’s Cup in the same room. You have participated in the two competitor meetings organized so far, how would you describe this process?
MS: Sorry Sebastien, I have attended all the meetings of the 33rd America’s Cup. Last year and this year.
SD: Ok Mike, I’ll rephrase that. You have attended the competitors meetings since the (re)launch of the 33rd, how would you describe this process?
MS: We discuss various issues around the table and make decisions based on that. There’s no doubt that the Challengers attending these meetings are having an influence. For me, it would not be right to not go there and then criticize afterwards. It is like if you were to complain against the politician leaders in your country without making the effort to vote.
I just want to remind you the influence, if any, the Challenger’s Commission has had in the past. Probably next to nothing. The Challenger Commission’s role was just to put up some wish lists and the Defender and COR would then argue it out, not always in the best interest of all the teams. This time it is definitively not the case and, again, if you want to have an influence you’ve got to be there. It is not that hard to submit a challenge, any Yacht Club/team can do it and then be part of these meetings.
SD: The defender appears to be running a democratic process toward the 33rd Cup, what more can the group do in your opinion to convince BOR to drop and join?
MS: Hang on! It is not a ballot thing, we don’t vote! But we sit around a round table and ideas are discussed, anyone can voice their opinion and decisions are made then and there. As far as BOR is concerned I don’t know what it will take to change their opinion. No one will ever know if it is because of their action that we are where we are now or because of Alinghi’s genuine will, but I believe they (BOR) can already believe that they have made a huge contribution to the 33rd America’s Cup. They can both keep their heads high and get on with it. Who knows why and who cares, but right now the Challengers are being given the opportunity to play a role in what the next Cup will be. At the end of the day, it is up to BOR to drop the court case and join and it is frustrating to see that we are so close to what in fact both teams want.
SD: If BOR dropped the lawsuit, would they be welcome in these meetings by the challengers?
MS: A line had to be drawn somewhere. The fact is that you must be an entered Challenger to attend these meetings and there is nothing wrong with that. I fully support this. Will BOR be welcome? Yes for sure they will be. Will there be any grudge towards them because of their action? Probably yes too. But again who cares? We’ve to get on with it and work as group.
SD: As an outside observer, it appears that BOR just simply doesn't trust the entered challengers to secure a 'fair and competitive' event. What do you say to this?
MS: I’ll repeat again. Come to the table and see for yourself. The Defender is doing much better than ever before as far as communication is concerned, as opposed to last year when they did not explain what was behind a somewhat poorly written protocol. I went along to the meetings last year and they where really good stuff with lots of things achieved however the message was not being allowed to get across to anyone that hadn’t entered, for sure Alinghi are doing a much better job at that this time around Politics aside, to get Russell Coutts, Mike Drummond or the guys at Reichel/Pugh at the table to come and help us to organize a good class rule and great 33rd America’s Cup would be fantastic. They’ve got a tremendous amount of experience in that team.
SD: A word about Mascalzone Latino refusing to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement and being denied access to the competitor’s meeting?
MS: Last year, when we were looking at purchasing an IACC V5, I had to sign one before being granted access to Mascalzone Latino’s shed! So I was quite surprised when they took this position as it is common practice in business to sign an NDA. It did not make sense to come all the way to Geneva and refuse to sign it but that is their prerogative I guess. However I am not sure that they didn’t actually achieve what they were after by the press release that so quickly followed.
SD: Are you satisfied with the way the regatta officials and the rules are being organized?
MS: Yes we are. We go to these meetings with a wish list of officials and they are discussed around the table until we reach a consensus. So I guess you could call that democratic. The rules have been discussed at length last year and we have accepted them. They might not be perfect but we entered the competition knowingly and we are now influencing the outcome.
SD: What are your views about the cost curbing objective for the next Cup, ie. a less expensive boat and a one boat per team campaign?
MS: They are great. The World’s economy is not in great shape at the moment and anything that could reduce cost is welcome.
SD: What about the Defender sailing in the challenger’s series?
MS: That is the price to pay to have a one boat campaign. I have no doubt that we will be able to come up with a way of having the Defender in the Challenger series but yet make all the Challengers comfortable that them being there has next to no effect on who makes it through to the Challenger final, plus at the same time give the Defender the comfort that everyone will race properly against them.
SD: What about the Defender controlling who is training with whom and when?
MS: That was completely blown out of proportion last year. AC Management was and is willing to put up a lot of practice race courses and regattas for us as often as four or five days a week!! so I don’t see where the problem is. With all the issues like this you have to go a little deeper and say why is it necessary, the reason it is here is to stop teams pairing up and pretending to race, but actually only doing one tack per beat and basically two boat testing.. that clearly isn’t the intention for this next 33rd Cup.
SD: A tricky one for you to wrap this up. In the current situation how best do you think someone like Russell Coutts, an America’s Cup’s idol, could set an example to the younger generation of sailors?
MS: Russell is saying that he doing all of this for the good of the America’s Cup. He has always been a real professional in his approach to the sport and it would be tragic if personal agendas are blocking this situation. We need to finish it and it is going to take some “give and take”. There is one very small last step to take, one that could be the toughest for both camps. In other words and to answer your question, I actually think that both Russell and Brad both of which are huge legends in not only the America’s Cup but sailing in general have a huge responsibility to the younger generation to settle this.