Alinghi sails may not qualify for America's Cup

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An apparent olive branch was folded into a bid today to up the tempo of talks about the dispute over whether America's Cup defender's new yacht, the giant Alinghi catamaran, is legally qualified to compete.

American challenger BMW Oracle said, through the San Francisco yacht club it represents, that it would be prepared "to give the defender reasonable time" to build its sails in Switzerland (plus take other remedial measures).

This is because the 19th century rules under which the event is due to be run in six weeks' time, require that yachts and their equipment be built entirely in the country they represent. Some of the sails Alinhgi has been using while practicing in its chosen event venue, Ras al Khaimah, ruled out by a New York court, have been built, says Oracle, in Minden, Nevada.

Any delay from 8 February would also give Oracle valuable extra time to test and improve its 90-foot trimaran and the huge wing sail which powers it. The yacht is at present being shipped across the Atlantic to a specially constructed base in the commercial port at Valencia, Spain, rather than its former base for more conventional yachts in the 2007 America's Cup harbour.

But the offer of more time is fraught with other problems. The Societe Nautique de Geneve, which is the base for cup holder Ernesto Bertarelli, has already said that the rules only require the "yacht or vessel" to be constructed in the respective country and does not expressly impose obligations in respect of any of the separate components.

It says it remains willing to meet but then says that until it formally nominates the yacht it will use "the issue would appear to be theoretical and moot". The defender does not have to nominate its yacht until it appears on the start line for the first of the best of three races.

The Golden Gate Yacht Club says it intends to meet with the SNG, though, in practice, its representatives would be senior Oracle team members. Failing a satisfactory outcome, it says it would take its complaint to an international jury.

Although a five-person jury has been named by the world governing body, the International Sailing Federation, it has not been formally constituted while legal indemnity and even fees procedures have yet to be agreed. So there is no jury to go to.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. The Alinghi yacht was due to leave the United Arab Emirate state for the Suez Canal two days before Christmas, so neither team will have much time to regroup and January weather is not always conducive to sail training. The mayor of Valencia, Rita Barbera, wants the whole thing delayed until April.

Also running out of time was New Zealander Neville Crichton in the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Race. His 100-foot Alfa Romeo was first to cross the finish line up the Derwent River in Tasmania, but he was nearly 15 hours outside the record set in 2005 by the second boat home, Australian Bob Oatley's Wild Oats, followed by Britain's Mike Slade in Leopard.

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