Another legal tussle for America's Cup holder

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The Independent Online

Friday sees the latest assault on the beleaguered America's Cup holder, Ernesto Bertarelli's Swiss-based Alinghi, threatening a tens of millions of dollars of compensation. But the pharmaceuticals and property billionaire is not worried about what a federal court in New York may say about the claim by Team New Zealand.

Kiwi boss Grant Dalton was in Geneva at the weekend to see Bertarellli have to be content with third place in the 600-boat classic Bol d'Or, a 70-mile hike up and down Lake Geneva.

But Dalton knows that his case could take months and years to grind its way through the complex American system. Of more immediate concern to Bertarelli, smiling and relaxed despite the disappointment, are the deliberations of the appellate division of the New York courts, considering his request to overturn a previous decision by the supreme court to impose rival billionaire Larry Ellison's San Francisco-based BMW Oracle team as the sole challenger for the America's Cup.

This has derailed many other challengers, including Britain's origin team, headed by Sir Keith Mills, aided and abetted by Carphone Warehouse boss Charles Dunstone.

Bertarelli's right hand man, Australian Grant Simmer, could offer little hope of any early resolution. "I see this whole thing being battled out every step of the way," he said. "This is not a nice period for the America's Cup. In the immediate future, there are not any bright lights." In theory, Alinghi should meet BMW Oracle in a first to two wins head-to-head at a venue of Alinghi's choosing and using giant, hugely fast, terrifyingly complex multihulls.

But Simmer is not confident the matter would end there. He fears that BMW Oracle would seek grounds for further legal action if they were beaten and, although at first saying they would "probably lick our wounds and decide where we go from there" if Alinghi lost, added that there were issues to be resolved over the legality of the BMW Oracle boat - or could that be boats. As there can even be dialogue and unofficial talks between sworn enemies like the Israeli government and Hammas, he was asked if there were any secret talks between the two camps. "There is no dialogue," he said emphatically. "It's like divorce; there are a lot of divorces where people do not talk to each other."

He was referring to the split between Bertarelli and his skipper, three times cup winner Russell Coutts. Coutts is now ceo and skipper for Ellison and has the bit between his teeth. His replacement at Alinghi is Brad Butterworth, a long time confidant, tactician, and golf rival. "I only hope, when this is all over, that they will be friends again," said Simmer. "My only job now is to get this boat designed and built - work has begin further up the lake at Villeneuve. I will be happy the date it goes sailing. Right now I just want to get it over, defend the cup and defend our pride."

Recently, Sir Keith has expressed fears that the whole process could stretch until 2013 before there is a multi-challenge staging of the cup. Equally, there are fears that, if BMW Oracle were to win, Ellison may spring a fast turnaround for as early as 2010, leaving potential challengers minimal time to raise finance, design and build a boat and be ready to race.

Meanwhile, in Hyeres, southern France, Alinghi came head to head with Origin at the second iShares Cup regatta for Extreme 40s. A win for Rob Greenhalgh and crew in the double points final race of 18 over three days was not enough to stop Alinghi's Ed Baird from topping the table. After winning the Lugano lottery which was the opener in Switzerland, Shirley Robertson, in J P Morgan, was seventh in the 11-boat fleet which now moves to the Isle of Wight as part of Skandia Cowes Week at the beginning of August.