Coutts to unveil future of America's Cup
Saturday 11 September 2010
The bumpy road that has been the America's Cup for the last three years is set to become more smooth in Valencia on Monday when Russell Coutts unveils plans to boost its future, including a new boat, a new format, the year in which it will be staged, and rules for the competitors.
The Cup is held by the San Francisco-based BMW-Oracle team, of which Coutts is ceo, and its Golden Gate Yacht Club after, in a 90-foot trimaran with a towering fixed wing sail, it blitzed the former holder, Switzerland's Ernesto Bertarelli's Alinghi team.
That move into multihulls, according to all the briefing and expectations, is expected to continue, along with a programme of races over the next three or four years, the possibility of split venues for eliminations and final challenge, and a competitor forum to air the views and wishes of all the potential challengers.
But the design rule for multihulls should be tight enough to allow close boat on boat racing rather than a boffin-driven drag race for speed.
What will not be announced is the venue as complex negotiations continue with a problematical San Francsico, Italy, home of the challenger of record, Vincenzo Onorato's Mascalzone Latino, Valencia, which has an existing, purpose-built harbour, though a problem for tall-rig multihulls, with Portugal and the Middle East also in veiled background contention. A decision is scheduled before 31 December.
What claims to be the longest-contested trophy in international sport, it began life in 1851 in a race around the Isle of Wight - the Doggett's Coat and Badge rowing race on the Thames precedes it by 136 years - and has been the subject of often bitter wrangling ever since.
That reached one of its landmark lows when Oracle, backed by one of America's richest men, Larry Ellison, decided that Bertarelli's vision for the future, after successfully defending in 2007, was unacceptable. The recourse was to the New York courts and, after the lawyers pocketed enough to fund a pair of America's Cup teams, Oracle won the sole right to challenge in their chosen multihull.
In the end, what was called a DoG match - DoG standing for deed of gift and referring to the original event protocol set up by the New York Yacht Club in the late 1800s - was yawningly one-sided. Oracle's real problem was not the opposition but keeping in one piece a hugely ballsy gamble of a wing mast which was threatened with being ripped apart by high winds when moored overnight.
That is one of the factors which will have been considered when deciding the boat design rules, but one which would not be a problem for challengers like Britain's Team Origin, skippered by a Ben Ainslie who was knocked out of the Danish regatta of the World Match Race Tour before the semi-finals. He finally fell to New Zealand's Adam Minoprio, not least because he was so incensed at incurring a penalty that he threw his own penalty flag at Minoprio and incurred another one. Ainslie can be an angry man.
But, looking ahead to the America's Cup he knows that aeronautical engineering and science expertise in the UK is extensive, as it is in France. In their separate ways, the more pressing problem for both is money.
As for timing, the longer the better to raise cash and the shorter the better to put back on the road a show that has to rebuild general interest and has alienated many of the faithful. Next year is impossible, the proximity of the Olympics makes 2012 more problematical than needs to be tackled, so 2013 would be logical if the venue has time and money to be ready, 2014 if more time is needed.
What has yet to be tackled is a nationality rule. There is some support for making the entries national, rather than crews being drawn from the international market. Coutts is a Kiwi, his skipper, James Spithill, is Oz and, at the victory press conference in Valencia in 2007, one American journalist pointed out that there was not one American on a platform backed by a giant Stars and Stripes.
The Volvo round the world is in the 2014 calendar, but not until late in the year and next year's Volvo race has so far attracted only five announced new boats.The key may lie in an America's Cup World Series, mandatory for all challengers, who have to start thinking about writing cheques between 1 October and 31 January for €1.5m of entry fee and US3m. of performance bond.
Oracle, which is investing heavily in developing television techniques and race track formats which will attract a bigger worldwide audience, is calling for six to eight regattas a year in Europe, the US and Australasia. By setting up what would a long-discussed annual world championship, the series would be used to grow the event. It would also allow many venues that do not want to stage a complete Cup elimination and final series, to bid for individual events.
British team boss Sir Keith Mills has already said he would like to see the tour come to the Cup's country of origin.
Oracle and Coutts have promised that the principle goal is not just to return the America's Cup to some semblance of normality but to make it fair for both defender and challengers and to attract a hugely increased mainstream audience. Monday will speak volumes.
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