Lil' Rhody Makes Big Pitch

Local sailors and politcians put forth a few-holds-barred effort in an attempt to woo the 34th America's Cup back to Newport, R.I., the historic home of sailing's biggest prize.

**Moments before the start of Sail Newport's America's Cup Luncheon, Scott McKenzie's, "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" wafted from the PA system across the warm, but windy, north lawn of Fort Adams State Park. **

Since the west coast city is—as was confirmed by BMW Oracle Racing’s Tom Ehman—the lone domestic rival to Newport, R.I., to host the 34th America’s Cup, this is perhaps the one time this mellow Flower Power anthem could be considered ominous. Virtually everyone in attendance is hoping that the Cup doesn’t, in fact, go to San Francisco.

But aside from that minor hiccup—who knows who chose the music—the event was a very successful celebration of Rhode Island’s commitment to the America’s Cup. BMW Oracle Racing brought the Cup, some slick video presentations, and a handful of key team members. To greet them—and apparently treat them to a long dinner at the Clark Cooke restaurant the night before—was a power team of Rhode Island politicians and other key operatives and nearly 400 eager sailors and residents.

Russell Coutts, who wasn’t scheduled to attend any part of the day’s festivities, apparently stuck around on Thursday to attend the portion of the program designated for Narragansett Bay youth sailors and also to get a tour of Fort Adams, which is at the top of the list of potential locations for an America’s Cup village.

Whether this reception, which Ehman lauded as the best yet on their tour, is a positive sign for Rhode Island’s chances of landing the 34th America’s Cup remains to be seen—it certainly isn’t a negative. Ehman, the team’s director of external affairs and the emcee for the event, said that San Francisco remains at the top of the list as it’s the preferred spot of team owner Larry Ellison, and the home port of the Golden Gate YC. Though, Ehman also added, that San Francisco has many hurdles still to surmount regarding the facilities. Speaking of Newport, the former Newport resident said the proposed village on Fort Adams is “second to none” and that the quality of the village “is not an issue.” Ehman added that the team has decided to forego a formal RFP process. It knows, he said, which cities are in the running: San Francisco, Newport, Valencia, Spain, and one or two other—as yet unnamed—ports in Europe. Ehman said that San Diego does not want to stand in the way of its northern in-state rival and therefore is no longer being considered for the Cup, though the city is expected to host a Louis Vuitton Trophy event in 2011 and would likely be line to host other Cup-related events in 2012 and 2013. As the team stated earlier this year, the venue decision will be announced before the end of 2010.

Regarding the choice of boat there was little new information. Design director Ian Burns said the team has received over 200 formal submissions on the next America’s Cup class. They’ve narrowed it down to a couple of candidates, but no decision on whether it will be a monohull or multihull has been released. BMW Oracle Racing design team will, in the very near future, turn over the parameters for the finalist designs to independent groups to determine the class rules for each potential design. This may seem like a small step, but it’s worth remembering that one of the big knocks on Alinghi’s attempted to reshape the America’s Cup class in 2007 and 2008 was that they’d started research on the new design rule long before the class was unveiled, giving the team a significant headstart. Alinghi quickly scrambled to counter this accusation, and, with its second attempt at a new America’s Cup class (AC33), it was going to leave several key parameters—overall weight among them—up to the challengers to ensure there was no chance the team could get an advantage. By taking this route now, BMW Oracle Racing ensures to a large extent that every syndicate will start on level ground once the rule is released. Combining this move with the team’s commitment to a truly independent race management and the “level playing field” that Ellison promised in Valencia is looking more and more realistic—at least as realistic as possible within the confines of the challenge cup format.

The question of the number of challenging syndicates came up during the session and Ehman replied that BMW Oracle Racing would like to see “eight good teams and not eight good teams and seven T-shirt sales shops.” This is good news for Newport and San Francisco; both are limited when it comes to available space and a 8 to 10 team America’s Cup (including defense syndicates) is much more feasible than 10 to 15 teams.