The fate of Britain’s challenge for the America’s Cup should become clearer this week as the format to which it would have to sign up is sent out by the San Francisco-based defender, BMW Oracle.
But Team Origin is far from being the only potential challenger for a trophy that goes back to 1851 which is apprehensive about having enough say over a campaign which, according to Origin boss Sir Keith Mills, should be spending over £2m a month.
The protocol for America’s Cup 34, which is being described as a new deal for a new era, has been over four months in the making since Oracle blew the old Swiss holder of the Cup, Ernesto Bertarelli’s Alinghi, out of the water in Valencia with the bazooka of a giant wing sail.
Oracle, its owner, Larry Ellison, plus skipper and ceo Russell Coutts, have consistently said they would reconstruct the event to give the challengers more say, to make its administration fairer and more transparent, and introduce measures to cut costs.
The protocol should outline the way in which the format for the next event will be structured, how the race administration will be put in place, including its independence, and even some ways in which costs could be cut, including a reduction in team sizes and proposals again to share the cost of weather data collection.
In theory it should have been worked through by Oracle’s chosen challenger of record, Vincenzo Onorato’s Mascalzone Latino team representing a club in Rome. It has also been the subject of consultation with the chairman of a group called the World Sailing Teams Association (WSTA), Paul Cayard. The WSTA was formed during the time since 2007 when Oracle and Alinghi were at loggerheads in the New York courts and the others were left dangling, awaiting the outcome.
The WSTA circuit to fill the void has included two regattas in Auckland, one each in Nice and Sardinia and concludes this year’s programme in Dubai in November. It is backed by Louis Vuitton, the French luggage and accessories company, which had sponsored and organised the America’s Cup elimination series since 1983. Louis Vuitton and Bertarelli also had a lengthy legal tussle.
Louis Vuitton has been kept in the loop by Oracle, though it would only ever be a commercial partner and could not be a participant to any agreement on the protocol. This week’s moves could make the WTSA, of which Oracle is a member, redundant and see it evolve into a Challenger of Record Committee.
The questions being raised by the syndicates waiting to challenge include a query over whether or how they could be participants in that agreement. Does consultation merely mean being informed? How much control will Oracle retain over not just how the next event will be run but everything the challengers can do along the way, including up to six events a year, a major budget consideration? What sort of corporation will run the commercial side of America’s Cup 34?
Does the consultation process being initiated this week mean that everyone can respond with their own thoughts and ideas, or will everything go through Mascalzone Latino? How will the input from other potential challengers who are not members of the WSTA be processed?
Is there a time limit for responses? Oracle is understood to be anxious to publish its protocol. It hopes to fast track the design choice for the AC34 boats - expect to see a monohull of about 86 feet – and it has already set a deadline of January 2011 for challenges.
This new document should help those who have to sell the idea to sponsors by giving them more time. And it is thought to contain ideas about the establishment of a return to a defender trial series.
The whole thing may have to stay in draft form until the venue for the next event is announced in case it needs tweaking to be venue-specific. The date of the next event has still not been set, but the expectation has more generally been that it would be 2014 rather than 2013.
In Marseille, the final two days of the Audi MedCup regatta were lost to high winds, meaning that the 2008 champion, Terry Hutchinson, and his Quantum team topped the table. But, in an event which sees every result of every race in the five regattas cumulatively count, Emirates Team New Zealand’s powerful display at the first regatta in Lisbon means it retains an 18.5-point cushion at the top with regattas in Barcelona (July), Cartagena (August) and Cagliari (September) to come.
A 25-foot, Folkboat, this time Brian Appleyard’s Nordic Bear, again won the top handicap prize, the Gold Roman Bowl, out of 1,754 entries in the Round the Island (of Wight) race.
Audi MedCup Circuit
Marseille Trophy, Marseille
1 USA / Quantum Racing: 22.5
2 ARG / Matador: 27
3 GER / FRA / Audi A1 Powered By All4one: 29.5
4 NZL / Emirates Team New Zealand: 31
5 GBR / Teamorigin 1851: 31
6 RUS / Synergy: 35.5
7 ESP / Bribón: 41
8 GBR / Cristabella: 43.5
9 ITA / Luna Rossa: 44.5
10 SWE / Artemis: 53
11 POR / Bigamist 7: 78
1 ESP / Iberdrola: 10
2 ESP / Madrid - Caser Seguros: 12
3 ITA / Airisessential: 15
4 ESP / Islas Canarias Puerto Calero: 17
5 GBR / Peninsula Petroleum: 24