Sailing: Sir Ben Ainslie faces a struggle as America's Cup venue is yet to be announced

San Francisco has been dropped as the host

A protracted struggle over the organisation of the next America’s Cup is in prospect for British team boss Sir Ben Ainslie after weekend talks for all the current declared challenger teams in Los Angeles. They were joined by representatives of the San Francisco-based Oracle team, an unusual but possibly promising move for the challengers.

The six from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, France, Italy and Sweden took the opportunity to say that they disapproved of the move to drop San Francisco as the venue, expressed varying degrees of dislike for the two remaining venue choices, San Diego and Bermuda, made clear that they did not want the event split between two venues, one possibly in the southern hemisphere, and wanted to see supervisory provisions, which at the moment bypass the sport’s world governing body, the Southampton-based International Sailing Federation (ISAF), reviewed.

In some of the more frank exchanges, the Oracle representatives, designer Ian Burns and lawyer Sam Hollis, were told that the choice of Bermuda could persuade some of them to pull out. Burns is a naval architecture business partner of Iain Murray, who called the meeting as chief executive of the challenger of record, the Hamilton Island Yacht Club (HIYC).

San Diego received a general thumbs down and even some American followers of the Cup have been scathing about the inner harbour at San Diego, host offshore of the Cup in 1988, 1992 and 1995 but at least it is not only in the U.S. it is in California. Some Americans would be upset if an American defender moved the event to another country.

Conflicting deadlines make life more difficult for everyone. The deadline for entries is 8 August, just three weeks away, but the venue is not likely to be announced before October and the stated deadline for that is the end of this year. Without a venue it is almost impossible to attract finance from sponsors and Ainslie needs up to £50m.

There will also be no more substantial changes to a rules agreement between HIYC and Oracle’s representative club, the Golden Gate Yacht Club, until the appointment of a race director. The 2013 principal race officer, John Craig of SFO, was thought to be in the running, even though he has taken up an appointment with ISAF. But among others mentioned is Phil Lawrence, commodore of the Royal Lymington Yacht Club and in charge of the Extreme Sailing Series, in which Ben Ainslie Racing, the Australians, the Kiwis, and the French compete. The Italians have also taken part.

The stand-off between the Americans and ISAF will take some delicate footwork but ISAF’s current president, the Italian Carlo Croce, is understood to be determined that the world governing body will be supreme in its events, not the Court of Arbitration for Sport. ISAF would normally provide an international jury to rule on disputes both on and off the water as well as providing umpires, who now operate both on the water and ashore use technology to monitor yachts racing at up to 40 knots on a track delineated by electronic touchlines.

Ainslie is being diplomatic. Before the meeting he had said: “The best way to get things done is to work with these guys.” He had also expressed a preference to race again in San Francisco, where he made a major contribution to Oracle coming from 1-8 down and winning 9-8 last year. Relations between Oracle Racing Team and the city fathers, including the mayor, had been strained before Oracle Racing ceo Sir Russell Coutts told the city in writing that it was no longer being considered.  

In Greece, Luke Patience, silver medallist with Stuart Bithell in 2012 in the 470 dinghy, won the European Championship with 2016 partner Elliott Willis with a race to spare. But in the open division they still came second to the Australian who beat them in Weymouth, Matt Belcher sailing with Malcolm Page but now partnered by Will Ryan.

After Tuesday’s medal decider for the women’s division, the British 2012 silver medallists Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark took second and silver in the Europeans behind the Austrian pair Lara Vadlau and Yolanta Ogar but were third in the open scoring, one point behind the New Zealand pair of Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie, who pipped them for the gold in Weymouth.

As Iker Martinez was confirmed as continuing skipper of the Spanish challenge in the Volvo round the world race, a giant of French solo sailing racing was recruited to help with the team’s preparation and a rising star of British solo offshore racing was called up to trial for one of the eight crew places.

Michel Desjoyeaux will help Martinez and his Olympic gold medal partner Xabi Fernandez try to catch up for the race which starts from Alicante in October. Joining the crew for the trip from Spain to Lazarote and the start of the round Canary islands race is Sam Goodchild, a recent competitor in the Figaro Solo Race.

The Spanish team has yet to announce its title sponsor, widely expected to be the insurance company Mapfre; Volvo has yet to announce who will campaign the seventh of the identical 65-foot boats making their debut this year.  

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