Geneva to host America's Cup summit

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The Independent Online

The battle for the initiative over the future of the America's Cup switches to Geneva next week as the defender, Alinghi, hosts on Thursday the first of two meetings for entered challengers at its sponsoring Societe Nautique de Geneve.

Significantly, the California-based would-be challenger, Larry Ellison's BMW Oracle, is not on the guest list and, significantly, all those potential challengers for America's Cup 33 are being asked to sign up with a 15 December deadline, long before any outcome is known about the New York Appeals Court case being brought by BMW Oracle against Alinghi.

The first meeting, to be led by Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth and design co-ordinator Tom Schnackenberg, would concentrate on the possible design of a new boat for an America's Cup in 2010.

But it is only one of a series of proposals, expected to be discussed more widely at the second meeting on 11 November, that may include discussions on the protocol that sets out the conditions for the next cup.

Butterworth has said that Alinghi is "open to change things in the protocol; if there is a problem, we'll rectify that."

The way to change the protocol, agreed with Alinghi's chosen Challenger of Record, the Club Nautico Espanol de Vela, is by mutual consent between the two, but, so far anyway, the CNEV has not called any meetings with its fellow challengers to discuss what those changes might be.

The new boat, which would replace the 90-foot design presented by Alinghi last July, is expected to be slightly shorter, but based on current designs which would allow it to compete in other regattas under a different measurement rule, allowing teams to race more widely, give greater exposure to sponsors, and keep teams competitive.

Each team would be allowed to build only one boat - though the contentious issue of Alinghi taking part in the challenger elimination racing remains - on the grounds of cost containment.

Alinghi is still planning to race on the weekend of 8/9 November, when the Vendee Globe singlehanded non-stop round the world race starts from Les Sables d'Olonne, in what will be designated the CNEV's annual regatta.

This is part of the legal bone of contention between Alinghi and Oracle as it is one of the conditions of the Deed of Gift under which the America's Cup is run and Oracle could find no evidence that the club had ever staged an annual regatta before becoming Challenger of Record.

The Spanish America's Cup team will also compete, activity at the Luna Rossa compound indicates they will be there, too, the South African Shosholoza boat is on its way back to Valencia, the Germans have been invited and Britain's Origin team is considering the matter.

A decision was expected by Friday, made more difficult because sailing director Mike Sanderson was mind-Atlantic at the helm, with his skipper Ben Ainslie, of Sir Richard Branson's sailing record attempt from New York.

But the British team can be persuaded, though it would mean borrowing a boat, if it brings easily organised training which would help on the way to the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series in Auckland at the end of next January.

All of this runs in parallel to the legal dispute, with deposition from both sides due in mid-November and then heard any time from early January onwards next year.