The Cup Spilleth Over
The Cup Spilleth Over
The 33rd America's Cup was a spectacle once it got underway, but let's hope its current caretakers do it justice next time around. The Jobson Report from our April 2010 issue
After 48 years of following or competing in the America's Cup, I'm still astonished by the events of the 33rd America's Cup. The acrimonious lead-up to this latest edition may be the Cup's most bizarre chapter yet. It began in 2003 when a then 37-year-old Ernesto Bertarelli won the Cup on his first try. It was an impressive showing, but his tenure as Cup holder has changed the nature of the America's Cup in ways never envisioned by the authors' of the original Deed of Gift. Larry Ellison, has an opportunity to turn it around.
Since the first defense in New York Harbor in 1870 the Cup has generated huge interest. One simply needs to revisit newspapers of the era to understand its stature-front pages were covered with America's Cup stories. While there was widespread disdain for the legal battles leading up to the 33rd Match, the media, and avid fans, kept a close watch on every development. And when the two giant multihulls met for the best of three series, curiosity attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers to the Internet. A reported 656,000 unique visitors watched the live racing direct through the official website. And that doesn't include viewership of the streaming broadcasting by 350 other Internet sites worldwide.
At first there was disappointment. Alinghi set weather parameters that were virtually impossible to sail in: they didn't want to race if the wind was over 15 mph or the waves higher than 3 feet.
After two days of weather cancellations the race committee ran out of patience and simply started running races. Principal Race Officer Harold Bennett is my choice for MVP of the match for running races in spite of protests by Alinghi and its club, Société Nautique of Genève.
Once the races got underway it was a treat to watch the two 90-footers engaged in battle. Bertarelli did himself no favors at the helm of his big cat, nor did he off the water, where the New York courts consistently agreed with Ellison's argument that Bertarelli was out of line with the protocol he had written for the match. Of course, Bertarelli complained that the court favored the Americans.
What bothered me was Bertarelli's refusal to negotiate in good faith at any time. BMW Oracle always seemed ready. There would be talks, and then Bertarelli would renege on any preliminary agreement. This pattern continued right up to the actual match. As the years go by, he may one day realize he has only himself to blame for his defeat and embarrassment.
After winning in 2003 Alinghi did three specific things that were wrong, in my opinion. First was hiring international talent to compete on Bertarelli's behalf, which flies in the face of the Deed of Gift, which calls for "a friendly competition between foreign countries." Since 1958 most every individual crew represented their own countries (there were a few exceptions). I hope Ellison defends the Cup with at least half, if not all, American sailors. Secondly, Bertarelli turned the 32nd Cup in Valencia into a profit center. This goes against the spirit of the charitable trust of the America's Cup. No defender before Alinghi made the America's Cup a for-profit enterprise, nor should it be ever again. Thirdly, writing a protocol that completely favored the defender was disgraceful.