Proposed Louis Vuitton Pacific series looks set to go ahead

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The Independent Online

An avalanche of interest in the proposed Louis Vuitton Pacific series, scheduled for Auckland at the end of January and early February next year, includes a tentative yes from Britain's America's Cup challenge syndicate, Sir Keith Mills' Team Origin.

The British team, which is trying in a 40-foot catamaran to oust the America's Cup holder from the leadership of the iShares Cup in Amsterdam this weekend, is one of 16 teams that has been talking to the Auckland organiser Bruno Troublé, who has been associated with the Louis Vuitton Cup since its inception in 1983 and the winner of which, including at last year's defence by Alinghi in Valencia, had the sole right to challenge the holder.

Since then a series of legal wrangles, including a bid by Larry Ellison's BMW Oracle to supplant the Swiss holder Alinghi's choice as Challenger of Record, the hastily-formed Club Nautico Espanol de Vela and a continuing row between Louis Vuitton and America's Cup Management has created a vacuum which has hit the event worldwide.

The proposed Louis Vuitton series, which would be contested by both former and potential America's Cup challenger teams, is in no way part of the America's Cup process or programme, but it would be staged by the beaten finalists last year, Team New Zealand, and has both the support and financial backing of the New Zealand government. TNZ is also in legal dispute with Alinghi, which is owned by Ernesto Bertarelli, and various attempts to mediate between him and those with whom he is in dispute, including many conversations with Sir Keith, have so far failed to resolve the issues.

BMW Oracle has said it wishes to take part in the Auckland regatta and proposed another Atlantic series to be staged in New York. South Africa's Shosholoza has also said it wants to be there and offered Durban as a venue for an Indian Ocean series. It is expected that Dennis Conner will also be invited to put a team together and the man who beat him to take the Cup away from the Americas for the first time in 1983, the Australian John Bertrand, has already indicated a wish to take part.

Intriguing will be the decision of Spain's Desafio Espanol, now skippered by Paul Cayard, but which is not represented by the CNEV. Talks were taking place between Troublé and Cayard yesterday. After attempting two races in the last of the 2008 Audi MedCup series in Portugal, the first won by Jochen Schuemann, another America's Cup skipper with a mothballed team, the second was abandoned. With the previous day's two-part coastal race also having been abandoned though lack of wind, that let Terry Hutchinson off a 15th place hook in Quantum. His 52.5 point lead makes him unassailable even if the maximum of three races could be staged on the final day today.

Huchinson's has been one of the high-budget campaigns and it appears to have been money well-spent on a series which, although being cut to five regattas next year, is set to welcome TNZ formally into the line-up and has another British team, headed by Andrew Pindar, taking a serious look. Earlier Sir keith had indicated that Team Origin may also join in and it is known that design co-ordinator Juan Kouyoumdjian has put some work together but, lately, Origin has seemed only lukewarm.