Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Larry Ellison and Members of the crew collect the Cup in a ceremony by Veles e Vents on Sunday evening
On St. Valentine’s Day 2010, the crew of BMW Oracle, with skipper James Spithill and CEO Russell Coutts, achieved owner Larry Ellison’s ambition to win the America’s Cup.
That it took two and a half years and a reputed 300 million dollars to reach this objective speaks volumes for the man and for the determination of his rival Ernesto Bertarelli to hold onto the trophy. Despite all the allegations and court appeals, BMW Oracle stood their ground and demanded the ‘Deed of Gift’ match be held in Valencia, not in Ras al Khaimah where Alinghi wanted to race.
When the two craft appeared in January, it quickly became obvious that this was to be no ‘normal’ America’s Cup match. Both multihulls were reputed to be capable of speeds in excess of 40knots (74km/h). Further, it seemed that Alinghi 5 was so light and so highly-loaded that she was unable to sail in winds over 15knots (28km/h) or with waves of more than 1 metre. BMW Oracle on the other hand was much heavier and capable of stronger conditions. She sported a wing mast that had cost over 5 million dollars, the price of a reasonable AC campaign ten years earlier!
Race 1 was due to take place on Monday, February 8 but was delayed until Friday due to variable wind direction. The two multihulls came together in the starting area and Alinghi, with Bertarelli at the helm, incurred a penalty. BMW Oracle, skippered by James Spithill, stalled before the start and Alinghi sailed away into a 660 metre lead. Their joy was short-lived as the American boat overtook them on the 20 mile beat and extended their lead all the way to the finish. The start of Race 2 was delayed until five minutes before the cut-off time and Alinghi, once more helmed by Ernesto Bertarelli, once more incurred a penalty. This time it was the Swiss boat which was late for the start and which then proceeded to overtake the Americans. BMW Oracle fought back and went on to win the race and the America’s Cup.
During Sunday evening’s press call, Larry Ellison confirmed that the Italian team Mascalzone Latino had been accepted as Challenger of Record for the 34th America’s Cup. The questions of when and where the series will take place are as yet undecided but Ellison declared: ”... There will be a completely independent jury, there will be completely independent umpires. It will be an independent group which manages the next America’s Cup and there will be a level playing field for all competitors.”
His remarks were prompted following the bitter legal battle with Team Alinghi over the allegedly high-handed and self-serving manner in which the original 33rd Challenge was set up by the Swiss Defenders. Even so Russell Coutts, when asked if Alinghi would be invited to take part in the next series said: “Of course we would like to see Alinghi back as a challenger. They are one of the best teams in this business, and they have proven that.”
Where next? It seems logical that Ellison would want to hold the next regatta in San Francisco, home of Golden Gate Yacht Club and close to his Oracle Corporation headquarters. But doubts have been raised as to how the San Francisco waterfront could accommodate all of the 11 to 14 challengers expected for the 34th America’s Cup series. A more likely venue would be San Diego, where BMW Oracle was extensively trialled before being shipped over to Valencia. Another possibility is Newport, Rhode Island where Cup matches were traditionally held until Australia II won in 1983.
When? To get the best possible entry level and to generate maximum interest in the event, the spring of 2013 would seem to be the earliest that a new series could be held. Apart from finding sponsors, the challengers would need time to learn what type of boat had been chosen for the next series and to prepare a budget based on the cost of building and campaigning the new craft.
Was it all worth it? Certainly Larry Ellison and his team will think so. Ernesto Bertarelli is probably still coming to terms with the reality of the situation and his future decisions could well be decided for him by key members of his team, who have remained remarkably tight-lipped during this whole event. But what about all the other challengers, their designers and supporters; how do they feel? Many lost their jobs 2 years ago when it became clear that nothing was going to be resolved quickly. And what about Valencia, whose leaders had the vision to create a magnificent new harbour; how must they be feeling now? A great deal remains to be written about this whole episode. Let us hope that lessons have been learned and that positive action is taken to protect the future of the America’s Cup and of this superb harbour complex in Valencia.