Tussle over plan for Mid-East America's Cup

Stuart Alexander
Friday 31 July 2009 08:57
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The America's Cup is to be staged next February in the Middle East for the first time in its 158-year history if the holder, the Swiss team Alinghi and the Societe Nautique de Geneve have their way.

A deal has been done in the Swiss canton capital with little-known Arab Emirate of Ras al-Khaimah but it is sure to be opposed by the challenger, the San Francisco-based BMW-Oracle.

Ras al-Khaimah, at the southern end of the Persian Gulf, has a total population of about 300,000 people, over 80 per cent. of whom live in its one city, is ruled by Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammad al-Qassimi, and has a land area of about 650 square miles.

Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli is convinced that an earlier ruling by the New York Supreme Court overturned the provisions of the late 19th century deed, drawn up by the New York Yacht Club and setting down the rules of the event, including a stipulation that the event could only be staged in the northern hemisphere from May to October and in the winter months had to be staged in the southern hemisphere.

In that earlier ruling, Judge Herman Cahn had said that the best of three races starting on 8 February could be staged in Valencia “or any other location”. Alinghi interprets this liberally; Oracle, headed by software billionaire Larry Ellison, interprets this as meaning any other location under the terms of the deed or that mutual consent is a pre-requisite of any variation..

Alinghi, under another requirement to give at least six months' notice to a challenger of the race course venue, is due to make its choice known no later than 8 August, though the announcement is expected earlier. The defenders have already won the right to drop some of the normal rules of sailing which will, consequently, allow the use of an engine to drive hydraulic systems, rather than crew-power, to control the sails.

All of this comes before another evidentiary hearing before Judge Shirley Kornreich, scheduled for Monday 10 August, at which the argument over the venue may have been heard. It is expected that Oracle will immediately appeal to the court to block the Middle East venue.

Alinghi has built a much lighter catamaran than the 90-foot trimaran being tested off San Diego by Oracle. It implies the choice of a known light air race track, something which could not be guaranteed off Valencia in February. The Alinghi boat is undergoing initial trials on Lake Geneva before being airlifted by a Russian-built helicopter through the Grand Bernard Pass in the Alps to the Cantieri Amico yard in Genoa, Italy, for secondary trials before then shipping to Ras al-Khaimah.

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