The America’s Cup soap opera continues, with all the twists and turns one might expect and few that are a complete surprise. As in any soap opera, it has its share of betrayals, broken promises, jilted lovers, illicit liaisons and the switching of partners. It remains to be seen whether the soap opera’s plot twists will end up hurting the races.
Last December it was revealed that the 35th edition of the America’s Cup to be held in 2017 will be sailed in Bermuda. The previous June, it had also been announced that the races would be sailed in 62 foot long foiling catamarans, AC62s. Aside from a few raised eyebrows over the American defender choosing a foreign harbor as the race venue, things seemed to be moving along, more or less. Six teams, including the defender, were scheduled to compete.
Then in March, four of the teams voted to reduce the size of the boat to be sailed from 62 feet to 45 feet, over the strong objection of the Italian team, Luna Rossa. Team New Zealand also voted against the rule changes. One of the non-boat related changes was the dropping of qualifying races in Auckland, NZ. As the New Zealand government funding had been conditional on the Auckland races, it threw Team New Zealand’s funding and future in doubt. The Italians stormed out, quitting the race, while the Kiwis made it clear that they were not happy. They have entered into arbitration with the cup authorities over the cancelling of the Auckland races
Then the name-calling started. The four teams which voted for the change; Artemis Racing, BAR, Oracle Team USA, Team France; published a letter attacking Luna Rossa and Team New Zealand. Most of the letter is spent criticizing Team New Zealand, which has not fully quit the race, issues of finding notwithstanding. The open letter was harfly an olive branch.
Everyone else then seemed to join in the mudslinging. Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli, whose team won the cup twice, before losing it to Oracle, is quoted as saying:
“It’s just a shame that the organisers can’t establish clear and transparent rules. I don’t know if they mean this, but the way they run things is quite obscure. Today, they want to revert to smaller boats; perhaps tomorrow they will do the opposite.
“I am amazed to observe that they managed to upset [Luna Rossa boss] Patrizio Bertelli, who played such an important role in the modern America’s Cup. It proves that Alinghi was right to pull out. Bertelli spent several tens of millions of Euros to develop a new boat and suddenly he is being told he did it for nothing.
“I love the America’s Cup, I have won it, and it will be part of me forever, so of course I follow what’s happening. But it is disappointing to see what’s happening. Just think about the fact that they decided not to respect the rules of ISAF! This is an open door to any sort of trouble. It’s very disappointing.”
Britain’s Bob Fisher, a respected international sailing journalist and a leading America’s Cup historian, called the rule changes, “nothing short of a disgrace.” In an open letter to the America’s Cup Events Authority, Fisher wrote:
“You have abused it, misused it and reduced it to no more than an average regatta, losing on the way its prestige and at the same time driven away the most serious competitors …”
Bruno Troublé, a skipper of two French Cup challenges in 1977 and 1980, and a 2007 inductee to the America’s Cup Hall of Fame, was equally blunt. He said, “What we have now is a vulgar beach event smelling of sunscreen and french fries. This is definitely NOT the Cup.”
On the sidelines, the ex-captain for Team New Zealand, Dean Barker, who helped snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the last cup outing, lead a media campaign to let everyone know that he was still interested in America’s Cup racing, even after being fired by Team New Zealand.
Things continued to be weird. Although the arbitration is still ongoing, Sir Russell Coutts, head of the Oracle organization, predicted that another Kiwi syndicate will join the competition for the 2017 America’s Cup if Team New Zealand pulls out.
The issue of whether Team New Zealand stays in the race is related to government funding, which at this point appears to be unlikely. In perhaps the weirdest twist, so far, it was revealed that the government of New Zealand has been paying subsidies to a boat builder owned by Team New Zealand’s arch rival Oracle Racing. The subsidy is said to be between half a million dollars and $17 million dollars, depending on which version of the story one believes.
The latest episode of the soap opera reveals that a Japanese team may be entering the race and that they have hired Dean Barker as skipper.
Stay tuned for the next exciting episode. A lot can happen between now and 2017.