Friday, September 28, 2007

An apology would be better, Hamish

It was tempting to headline this column, "Hamish Ross, shut up." But that would be intemperate; that would not do. It would be tempting to say, "At least, we're glad he works for Alinghi." But that would be partisan, and while we are partisan, it really shouldn't show. And he is a sailor and a lover of classic boats, who has done much to preserve the heritage of New Zealand's vintage vessels, so we honor him for that initiative and its legacy.

But Hamish Ross's (NZL) recent attempt to justify, mitigate, withdraw-but-not-withdraw, modify, defend, parse, explain, dissemble, camouflage, reorder, disorder and redact his remarks about the validity of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS) as an America's Cup challenger, at various points in its America's Cup history, is absurd in the extreme.

While his critique of the status of RNZYS as an incorporated entity was issued in his role as General Counsel of Alinghi, his response (by invitation or not), widely circulated in the media and online, it should be noted, was published by him personally.

He affirms that RNZYS received a Royal Warrant from the British Monarch and a warrant from the British Admiralty in 1902 granting members the right to wear the Blue Ensign, which according to key provisions in the Deed of Gift qualifies them as a legitimate Club.

Think of this as an orange.

Then, he says, the incorporation of RNZYS, by virtually any measure of the term 'incorporation', was invalid.

Perhaps, perhaps not. But think of that as an apple.

He overlooks the fact that all the Deed of Gift requires is that you be a succulent, juicy fruit of their determining, an apple or an orange, and as an orange, RNZYS qualifies.

You can forget the apple.

Hamish Ross knows this absolutely. Which is what makes his juvenile missive self-serving and tedious, also in the extreme.

What we need to hear from Hamish Ross are words of character.

"I made an unfair assertion in my original comment," he should say. "The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron is a perfectly legitimate and authentic Club under the Deed of Gift. Everyone knows that. I was wrong in my assertion. However, I felt the facts were fungible, in my opinion, and I was happy to explore them in service to my employer who looks to me for loopholes and the legal and public relations advantages that these confer. Neverthless, I am forced to admit my poor judgment, and I offer my complete and unreserved apology to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, its officers and members, and its associates throughout the world. As an Alinghi team member, I look forward to sailing against their nominated New Zealand team in America's Cup 33. In the meantime, I shall continue to respect and wear the Squadron Ensign, a right granted to me as a member in good standing of RNZYS, by virtue of the authority granted them by the British Admiralty in 1902, subsequently affirmed by Royal Licence of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. This is an honor that I personally value, and of which I am inestimably proud."

If Hamish Ross felt otherwise about the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, perhaps he should resign his Warrant (No.31) for his vessel (Little Jim) to wear the Squadron Ensign.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Kudos to Terry Hutchinson

Emirates Team New Zealand cruises quietly
prior to the start of a Louis Vuitton race
with Desafio Espagnol in May 2007.
Click for a closer view.

Terry Hutchinson (USA) was afterguard member and tactican for Emirates Team New Zealand for the 32nd America's Cup.

He was hired by Team New Zealand managing director Grant Dalton (NZL) during a remarkable 24-hour trip from the United States to Auckland, New Zealand, during the planning stages of the New Zealand challenge.

As a key player for New Zealand, Terry grew tremendously, personally and professionally, during the great event. As Kiwi tactician, he forged a relationship with the New Zealand afterguard, including skipper Dean Barker (NZL). As a sailor, he was totally focused and totally motivated. As a competitor, he gave every race his 1001 percent effort. And he was successful.

In some ways, he was a lot like his bete noir, Brad Butterworth (NZL) of Alinghi, the world's canniest sailor. Terry took risks, too, just like Brad. But maybe Brad knew more, had done more, and could handle more. Yet Terry was a serious competitor.

And Team New Zealand won the Louis Vuitton Cup.

They could have won the America's Cup, too, but didn't.

They lost the one race to stay alive by one second. And given the tumults and tempests that impact any America's Cup race, how could any tactician, any skipper, or any navigator realistically plan to avoid a situation like that? It's impossible.

So for reasons best known to Terry and Team New Zealand, he will be moving on.

During the last race, it was tragic to hear Terry (via onboard sound and video) apologize to his crew members for yet another left-side-of-the-course decision that temporarily doomed ETNZ. But they rallied him in a heartbeat and cheered him aggressively. All part of Grant Dalton's genius, on-board management philosophy, "steady state".

That race tore you apart. We saw a great skipper, Dean Barker, doing his damndest. We lived through every ounce of tension with a very human tactician, a focused afterguard, a great crew, and a great team. All of them on a great boat.

Best wishes to Terry Hutchinson for the next steps in his America's Cup career, and megabest wishes to the team lucky enough to bring him aboard.

Whaia te kaha!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Gosh, Schnack is the design co-ordinator, do we think that's a good idea?

Tom Schnackenberg (NZL) was design coordinator for Team New Zealand for America's Cup 2003. He built the boats.

Here's how ABC News Australia described the incident above, in AC 2003, during the event:

COMMENTATOR: Team New Zealand have broken their mast. Just collapsed, snapped in half. Oh my goodness! Just disaster for Team New Zealand.

ROSS SOLLY: The crack of the mast on board NZL 82 was matched only by the crack of New Zealand jaws hitting the ground, as their multi-million-dollar yacht lurched in the waters off Auckland.

COMMENTATOR: Trying to cope with all this damage. I mean, it is just horrendous out here, and this is, well, it's just calamitous, isn't it?

ROSS SOLLY: Alinghi was ahead when the disaster struck, and only had to make its way around the final three legs to take a four-nil lead. Race five is set down for tomorrow, and Team New Zealand will burn the midnight oil tonight replacing their mast.

Tom Schnackenberg is design coordinator for the New Zealand defence, and spoke to local television shortly after the drama.

TOM SCHNACKENBERG: Oh, yes, it's a sight that no sailor likes to experience. We all do from time to time, but it was dreadful, especially in this situation.

INTERVIEWER: They can repair the rig, but what about repairing morale now? What are you going to do?

TOM SCHNACKENBERG: Oh, well, the guys just have to put this behind them. As you can imagine, they were very, very annoyed and disappointed. They'll be taking positives out of it and saying okay, let's just forget this and go out and race tomorrow.

ROSS SOLLY: Team New Zealand had to withdraw from race one of the finals series after suffering gear problems. John Bertrand, who experienced the highs of America's Cup tracing when he helped Australia create history in 1983, but has also felt the lows, says New Zealand's poor performance has been surprising.

Is there anything that the sailors on board could've done to stop it happening?

TOM SCHNACKENBERG: Not whilst continuing the race. Probably in hindsight, they didn't know it at the time. But the bottom line is if you race these boats in extreme conditions above what they had today, then any of these race boats would break up.

The bottom line, however, is obviously the safety factors that team New Zealand have developed are a little bit below what is required to complete an America's Cup race, and that's what we saw. And that's what we saw in the first race where they broke the boom and did some other stuff as well.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Keep up the good work, Ernesto!

Work in the trenches by Brad Butterworth (NZL and Alinghi) and Russell Coutts (NZL and BMW Oracle) appears to be moving America's Cup 33 forward.

Just announced by Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) and Team Alinghi, with the "agreement" of Club Náutico Español de Vela (CNEV), are subtle changes in the 33rd Protocol that (i) limit the powers of America's Cup Management (ACM) to act in an arbitrary and capricious way, (ii) redefine aspects of the protocol, yet curiously (iii) protect the power of the Alinghi-appointed Arbitration Panel (ACAP).

The fact is, there is a lot vested in the honor, integrity and independence of the three panel members, a Swiss, a Kiwi, and a Spaniard. All of whom were appointed by Alinghi, and none by the challengers.

Nevertheless, Ernesto Bertarelli (SUI), Prince of Alinghi, has been quoted and said, in effect, we've taken a step towards you, Larry (Ellison, USA). We want you in the Cup. Drop your lawsuit and become a full-fledged member of the challenger community. You can see we're involving challengers, and we're softening the protocol.

Which is great.

But Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) hasn't yet weighed in. And there's still the remaining legal issue pending in the New York Supreme Court over CNEV's legitimacy as a challenger. And issues are still simmering over the independence of the challenger event, formally known as the Louis Vuitton Cup, which all current challengers are cheerfully ignoring in the hope that GGYC will resolve it.

Today's news, however, is a step in the right direction.

Certainly, Ernesto wants Larry and Russell in the game.

No wonder.

Any American team, and particularly this one, commands the attention of the largest media market on the planet and millions of dollars in potential revenues for the Cup. Not just from the United States, either, but globally. After all, Russell is a uber-Kiwi. And Oracle and BMW are global brands.

If it's America's Cup, America has to be there.

That's what most saltwater Americans believe. And if asked, most regular Americans, as well.

But be assured, no American wants any American team hog-tied by rules that are draconian in their intent, and absurd in their application.

Ernesto seems to be rethinking what he originally created. God bless him.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

On top of everything, Brad and Russell still play golf together

Well, everything is happening, as planned. Good old Tom Schnackenberg (NZL) has been appointed by America's Cup Management (ACM) to liase with all challengers (except Oracle) to discuss design rules for the new 90-foot boat. Once he does that, then (wham!) he transfers to the Alinghi design team.

Some people say this great New Zealander is the canary in the coal mine.

If he hesitates, they say, leave the room. You can be sure that the next big wind will be Ernesto Bertarelli (SUI), the Prince of Alinghi, and his legions of lawyers, dissemblers and aribitration panelists.

Elsewhere, the Prince's arbitration committee (ACAP), headed by his pal, Prof. Henry Peter (SUI), has declared the candidacy and stature of Club Náutico Español de Vela (CNEV) to be beyond reproach. Absolutely spotless. Just the perfect challenger. Nobody better, and they were first to challenge so we can't refuse them, despite the fact we cooked this before anyone else challenged and nobody else was invited.

This is the big lie at work.

Elsewhere, the New York Supreme Court has refused to grant Golden Gate Yacht Club's injunction, but has asked for written and verbal proposals from both parties to the lawsuit, and soon.

And still, challengers roll up and knock on Alinghi's door.

There are demonstrations, also, of the pathetic.

Notably Hamish Ross (NZL), General Counsel for Alinghi, and his assertion that the venerable Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (RNZYS) was not incorporated during recent America's Cup events. This required Commodore John Crawford, a major decision maker in America's Cup, representing one of the oldest yacht clubs on the planet, to vigorously defend the Club, sharing the truth about the Squadron's status.

What makes Ross's assertion absurd is that everyone knows RNZYS is inviolate as an institution; it's part of the global sailing establishment. Which is something that every legal hack, Hamish Ross chief among them, knows assuredly.

Anyway, it's the silly season.

One good thing is that Brad (Butterworth, NZL, Alinghi) and Russell (Coutts, NZL, Oracle) are talking to each other.

They are the world's best friends.

Despite the Prince of Alinghi and the Chief of Oracle, who are their esteemed employers, these two pals are deep friends. They maintain a deep and personal relationship.

And they golf together ...


Our fictitious caddy followed the pals as they meandered over the course at Club Scorpion, not far from Port America's Cup:

BRAD: You whacked that bugger into the trees.

RUSSELL: No, I was laying up for my second.

BRAD: I've done that before, it didn't work.

RUSSELL: Brad, what are we going to do about Ernesto? We're hanging out there. Larry's doing the legal thing. I need to build a team. You need us or it's going to be c**p for American viewership. You've got to do something.

BRAD: I've been doing everything I can, mate. You don't know how hard this is.

RUSSELL: Maybe I do.

BRAD: Ernesto's got the bit between his teeth. The tougher it gets, the tougher he gets. He's really proud of this thing. He really thinks he owns the America's Cup. He's not gonna give an inch on anything.

RUSSELL: He doesn't own it.

BRAD: Ask Kristy that.

RUSSELL: Well, she did look happy coming down the steps from that Swiss plane.

BRAD: She's hot for the America's Cup.

RUSSELL: The world thinks Larry is the evil player. You know Ernesto is a maniac. What are we going to do?

BRAD: Buggered if I know.

RUSSELL: No, you're in there. You've got to make a decision.

BRAD: Look, if I knew what to do, we'd be doing it. It's all about Ernesto. He makes all the calls. I don't like it, but I've gotta do it. If there's a way to get around this, Ernesto doesn't want to know about it. He thinks we've won.

RUSSELL: Look, just change the challenger series. That's all anybody wants. Change that, and everything happens.

BRAD: Mate, Ernesto doesn't want a challenger's series he doesn't sail in. He doesn't want teams building two boats or thinking about more than one boat. He doesn't want anyone doing anything that gives them an advantage. He hates that. Not too crazy about it myself.

RUSSELL: Does he want us in the Cup?

BRAD: You'd better use a five-iron from here.

RUSSELL: No, I'll use a six.

BRAD: The wind's from the east.

RUSSELL: Where's my seven?

BRAD: Well, if you're gonna use your seven, hit towards that tree. Hit it hard and let's see what happens.

RUSSELL: What are you going to hit?

BRAD: I'll follow you.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Seriously, Brad, why should Larry Ellison withdraw anything?

It's great to hear Brad Butterworth (NZL) discussing the Alinghi vision for big new boats for America's Cup 33.

It's a bold vision evoking the great J-Class boats of yesteryear, with new technology and new thinking. It will mean big boats, big crews, great sailing and great competition. Who could possibly resist? AC33 will be great for boat design, motivating (and challenging) for teams, and fabulous for the rest of us to watch.

But it's sad and tiresome to see this great sailor step into a flakcatcher role, as he did yesterday, whining about Golden Gate Yacht Club's lawsuit in New York and moaning about Larry Ellison (USA).

One, the lawsuit hasn't stopped serious teams from challenging.

Two, the sad fact is, Ernesto Bertarelli (SUI) started this. Ernesto set the rules. Ernesto made all the decisions. Golden Gate has disagreed, philosophically and legally. So they have asked the New York Court that adjudicates the Deed of Gift to make a decision.

That's perfectly legitimate, and perfectly reasonable.

This whole thing boils down to fairness and objectivity, as most people see it. And it's a smokescreen to blame Larry Ellison and Golden Gate. Ernesto is the major proactive factor here.

In truth, there is only one person who has anything to withdraw.

It's the Prince of Alinghi.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Britain's TeamOrigin ploughs in!

Sir Keith Mills, Principal TeamOrigin (GBR), with a printed, folded, and apparently, just unwrapped, Union Jack.

Speaking in italics, Sir Keith Mills (GBR), Principal of TeamOrigin, representing the new British challenger, the Royal Thames Yacht Club (RTYC), today declared the new Protocol for the 33rd America's Cup to be absolutely the best protocol ever.

Not a defect anywhere. Just perfect. No two-boat testing (a huge relief, to be perfectly honest). Club Náutico Español de Vela (CNEV), absolutely the right challenger of record, no quarrel with that, looking forward to their regatta, sometime in 2007, should be a stunner. Thanks to Ernesto, we're going deep into the 21st century with this one, forget the past, it's sheer brilliance all the way. Happy to be part of it.

To paraphrase.

Seriously, it's great to see Britain seriously involved in America's Cup 33. Team Origin, let's hope, will be a dedicated and innovative competitor.

But this Billy Bunter support for the protocol?

Where does that come from?