America’s Cup venue spat heading back to court
November 25, 2009
SAN DIEGO – With just more than two months to go before the America’s Cup is scheduled to start, American challenger BMW Oracle Racing will wrap up sea trials at the end of this week and prepare to ship its monster trimaran overseas.
One rather large detail remains unsettled. The Americans don’t know whether Valencia, Spain, or Ras al-Khaimah, United Arab Emirates, will be the final port of call for the 90-by-90-foot craft, which features an enormous wing sail and is believed to have sailed at three times the speed of the wind.
That’s because a long, twisting court fight between bickering billionaires isn’t quite finished.
BMW Oracle Racing and its bitter rival, two-time defending champion Alinghi of Switzerland, are scheduled to present oral arguments Wednesday before the New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division. The Swiss are appealing a lower court’s ruling on Oct. 27 that Ras al-Khaimah is ineligible to host the best-of-three showdown beginning Feb. 8.
Although the Swiss announced two weeks ago that they’re preparing to race in Valencia, they haven’t given up hope of racing in RAK. They say in court documents that they’ll defend the Cup on the Persian Gulf if they win the appeal.
A ruling from the bench seems unlikely. The teams are hoping for a decision within the next week or two so they can firm up plans for what could be the most extreme racing in the 158-year history of the America’s Cup.
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Alinghi’s 90-foot catamaran, Alinghi 5, has been in RAK since late September.
Depending on how the court rules, there could be further appeals. The Americans believe that a 4-1 or 5-0 decision in their favor would almost certainly end the venue spat.
The landlocked Swiss argue that they’re entitled to sail in RAK based on a previous ruling by a now-retired justice. They also say the emirate’s government has committed $120 million toward infrastructure.
The Americans believe Valencia is the proper venue, and were successful in getting New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich to declare that RAK does not comply with the 19th-century Deed of Gift that governs the America’s Cup.
This will be the second time the convoluted fight between American software mogul Larry Ellison and Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli has been before the Appellate Division.
In July 2008, the court sided 3-2 with the Swiss that a Spanish yacht club, not BMW Oracle Racing’s sponsoring club, Golden Gate, was the Challenger of Record. That decision was overturned in April in a unanimous decision by New York’s top court, sending the powerhouse sailing teams on course for a rare head-to-head showdown for the oldest trophy in international sports.
The panel will also hear Alinghi’s appeal of Kornreich’s decision that rudders will be excluded when the boats’ load waterlines are measured. That, too, was a victory for the Americans.
BMW Oracle Racing’s trimaran, known as BOR 90 and soon to be renamed USA, has become quite the attraction on San Diego’s waterfront.
The wing sail, added two weeks ago, towers 190 feet above deck and is about 47 feet longer than the wing on an Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger airliner.
The crew sometimes trains on San Diego Bay rather than going out on the Pacific Ocean. The craft accelerates quicker and handles more efficiently with the wing sail than it did when it had a traditional soft sail rig. When the boat hooks into a breeze, the windward and middle hulls silently and effortlessly lift out of the water.
“I mean, you just see the excitement this generates, not just in the sport, but the average person on the water,” Australian-born helmsman Jimmy Spithill said. “It’s going to be exciting to see what happens from here on. There are heaps of people checking it out, just interested in it. I reckon that can only help the sport.”
The addition of the wing sail has led to an unusual mooring arrangement.
With the old rig, the crew would drop the mainsail and tie up at the wharf. Because the wing sail remains up almost all the time – it’s lowered only for occasional maintenance – the boat is now moored offshore. Members of the sailing and shore teams have set up a watch system, taking turns spending the night on the trimaran.
“It never stops,” Spithill said. “It’s almost like a little baby. You can never take your eye off the thing. You can’t leave it on its own.”