Sunday, October 21, 2007

And may the America's Cup win!

Best wishes to Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) in their defense of the Deed of Gift against the challenger, Société Nautique de Genève (SNG), and SNG's attempt to convert the ancient document to govern a yacht racing event for which it was not designed. God speed!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Part II: What Ernesto must do now

Let's review.

(1) Ernesto (Bertarelli, SUI) said let's race big 90-foot boats.

(2) Let's only build one boat, and race one boat, per team.

(3) We all sail together, defender and challenger alike.

(4) A Spanish Yacht Club, Club Náutico Español de Vela (CNEV), will be challenger of record.

(5) We eliminate the role of all challengers to decide anything, including the challenger series, and give them no voice in anything that has to do with the Cup, except their decision to compete.

That was Ernesto's 'plan'.

Now it's a big mess, admittedly. But before we dismiss it, or diss it yet again, let's give Ernesto the benefit of some objectivity.

Let's grant him big boats. Let's grant him the idea that we all sail together, just like every team that participates in a global sporting event like World Cup Rugby, for example, where everyone is equal, including the last winner, and ultimately, only one team, the best team, prevails. Let's even, for the moment, grant him CNEV (but only temporarily).

What's wrong with this picture?

A lot is wrong with this picture. But mostly -- and gravely -- the alignment of the protocol is wrong.

If Ernesto truly desired to reinvent America's Cup for the 33rd Edition, he made a humongous bruta figura in converting the traditional protocol to support it.

That was a total non-starter, and subsequent events have proven it. Now chaos and confusion reign.

In contrast, if Ernesto truly desired to stage a different America's Cup, he had two obligations:

(1) Clearly explain his new AC33 concept. That means pre-selling it to potential participants (to get their goodwill and their participation) and selling it publicly (so the media gets the story right) long before the wording of the protocol is even contemplated.

(2) Develop an entirely new protocol that supports the new concept. A new, fair and reasonable protocol for the new event, not an old protocol corrupted from the Deed of Gift.

Unfortunately, Ernesto did none of this, not even close.

Now, frankly, he must make amends.

He must absolutely make a mid-course correction, and do it before October 22, when the new concept risks a calamity in the New York Supreme Court, and a fierce burning to the waterline, torched in effect by a protocol (and a Deed of Gift) that describes a markedly different event.

And, maybe, we have to grant Ernesto some leeway, some headroom, some respect, to do what must be done.

What Ernesto must do now

Hypothetically, Ernesto must hold meeting of challengers and prospective challengers at a suitable, neutral location, say Dubai.

Let's imagine him welcoming his guests:

Fellow sailors, thank you for coming. I am here to do two things.

One, I want to better explain my idea for America's Cup 33, and two, I want to ask for your support and participation in what I know will be an exciting event for all of us, and for sailing fans around the world, including a lot of new fans who discovered America's Cup for the first time, in the waters off Valencia, as well as on television around the world, this spring.

But first I want to apologize -- not for my idea for AC33, which I love, and which I think you can love and support also. But rather for the confusion, anger and frustration that our planning has created, particularly regarding the protocol.

I regret these unintended consequences, and I know you do, too -- but I think our meeting today can resolve these issues. In fact, I know it can.

My essential idea for the Cup is pure.

I want us to race big boats, which Brad (Butterworth, NZL) says reminds him of the big, beautiful J Class boats of yesteryear. I'm excited about these big boats. Many of you are, too. I know we can design and build these big boats in two years. I know you and your great teams can, too.

Regarding the racing, however, that's a totally different idea.

What must be understood -- and what hasn't been understood about my concept -- is that there is no defender and there are no challengers.

Believe me.

We are all going to be equal. Alinghi is a contender. You are all contenders. We are all contenders together. One of us will win -- I hope it's me, but it might be you. So good luck to you. And good luck to me.

My big mistake, I now admit, was not inventing this concept for AC33 -- but in using the old protocol to make it happen. That was a huge mistake. Looking back, I cannot believe we did that.

What we really intended to do was to create a new idea for AC33.

To be authentic, I now see clearly, this new idea must have its own protocol.

As a result of this meeting, therefore, I want us to consider the implications of a new protocol, and in fact, I want us to lay the foundations for a new protocol.

Basically, what we must consider today is this:

Since we are all 'contenders', the idea of 'defenders' and 'challengers' is now obsolete. We are competing together. There is no 'defender' (although we at Alinghi won AC32). There is no 'challenger', because we are all challenging, Alinghi included.

Therefore, we are all racing together.

Therefore, if we all race together, our new protocol must acknowledge this.

If we race together, we must design the boat together. It must be our shared formula.

If we race together, we must appoint committees together. These committees must judge all of us.

If we race together, we must design our course of events together. That means deciding where we want to race together, how many events, what system of points will accrue to participants and victors. And so on.

If we race together, we must decide this together.

I cannot think of a system that would be more pure, more authentic, more democratic, or more equitable.

Ostensibly, I know that this idea may be in conflict with the original Deed of Gift, as we understand it, and as many people understand the conventions of America's Cup.

But I am asking that all of us to come together on these precepts to make America's Cup 33 a different kind of America's Cup.

In so doing, I want us to make it a stunning success -- which I know it can be -- given that we have an exciting new concept, with exciting new boats, entered by the nations of the world, Switzerland included.

Personally, I believe that my America's Cup concept can be our America's Cup concept.

Personally, I also believe that this Cup can live in the spirit, if not the letter, of the Deed of Gift.

After all, it was a contest of nations that inspired the original America's Cup, and all subsequent contests.

All of us represent fantastically committed nations, and their premier yacht clubs, and I must admit, some new clubs that I know will rise to greatness.

Regardless, my deepest wish is a sincere one.

Let us make this edition of the America's Cup succeed.

If America's Cup succeeds, we all succeed.

And, as we consider these new ideas, let us also consider these footnotes.

If we believe this event is a workable context, I am assured by Club Náutico Español de Vela (CNEV) that they will return their acceptance as challenger of record, and join all of us as a contender.

My special wish is that we grant them the status as "Host Yacht Club" and that we honor them, their city and their nation, as our esteemed and gracious hosts for America's Cup 33.

If we believe that this event is a workable concept, and if we agree that these ideas are viable, and if our friends in San Francisco are in accord with these ideas, I invite the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC), and my great competitor, Larry Ellison (USA), to consider the alternatives available to them, regarding imminent proceedings in the Supreme Court of New York.

My fellow sailors, whatever has been said about me, and whatever I have said about you, one thing remains. I am one of you.

I'm an entrepreneur and a businessman, like Larry, and many of you, and I live in the business world.

But my love is our world, sailing and racing.

I hope that the confusion, frustration and fears created by a new idea, which I now agree was creatively and imaginitively birthed, but inadequately introduced, can be effectively remediated and that we can work together to create the greatest America's Cup the world has ever seen.

Even greater than the brilliant event we just concluded.

Please join me in making this happen.

Thank you.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Part I: What Ernesto did, and didn't do

Ernesto Bertarelli (SUI) had big ideas for America's Cup 33.

A seasoned competitor, he personally experienced the trials and torments of two America's Cup campaigns, and he triumphed, twice.

As he looked at AC33, he saw a different competition.

First (and not necessarily in this order, because nobody but Ernesto knows Ernesto's mind), he envisioned bigger boats, ninety-foot boats, eleven feet longer than Version 5 boats, with huge rigs and sails; as Brad Butterworth (NZL) later said, boats that evoked the spirit of the old J Class yachts of yesteryear.

Second, Ernesto decided he didn't want to build two of them. Obviously he felt the cost impacts of two vessels, two crews, and two huge overheads. Building two boats makes no sense, he says. It's insane. Let's build one boat, race one boat, and win with one boat. After all, that's what they used to do in America's Cup; that's what the great sailing event was all about. Perhaps, if you race Formula One cars, you need a stable of race cars. But this is sailing. One boat should be good enough -- so long as you build the right boat and sail it the right way.

Third, Ernesto envisioned a different kind of series. Not a traditional defender-challenger series, defined by two camps -- one the defender, and a circus of other boats, fighting it out among themselves for the right to sail against the former victor, waiting patiently in the shallows. Instead, he saw an open preliminary, like World Cup rugby. Or Wimbledon tennis. Yes, there's last year's winner, ostensibly the defender. And yes, there is a flurry of challengers. But it's going to be different this time; everyone starts out the same. The playing field is totally leveled. Everyone races together. And the last two boats remaining fight it out for the America's Cup. We, as Alinghi, might be part of that; we might not. But all of us sail equally; may the best boat win.

This bucks tradition, and certainly it's a different concept. But is it irrational, crazy, insane, draconian? Not at all. It's just a different concept. And it might even be a reasonable concept given today's world and the pressures on teams, syndicates and sponsors. Yacht racing is not getting less expensive; it's getting more expensive. If costs can be controlled without destroying the thrill and excitement and challenge of America's Cup racing -- and we add to that the excitement of huge boats competing in one, amazing, knock-down, drag out preliminary that leads to the America's Cup final -- well, maybe we will achieve something great.

Fourth, Ernesto decided, let's have a Spanish challenger of record. This is a big emotional, tactical and competitive issue, since the challenger, traditionally, has considerable power and influence over the event. But it would be great for my organization, says Ernesto, and certainly great for Valencia and Spain, our AC32 hosts, to be the city and nation of the challenger of record. In fact, it would help cement Valencia's involvement in AC33 and be a tribute of sorts to Spain. It would also make our lives a lot easier. Better than dealing with an aggressive challenger who might corrupt our concept, we have an elegant solution that makes us friends in Spain.

Fifth -- and here, we might add, Ernesto gets inexplicable, and as a result, in the perceptions of many people, logic, fairness and honor take a vacation -- he decides to totally manage the new event. Let's tighten the protocol, he says. Let's make sure we control everything -- the design concept, the protocol for racing, the management of rules and protests, the race committee, adjudication, everything. We manage all of this. We don't have the challengers managing anything. Remember, we changed the fundamental concept of America's Cup and we can't expect anyone to see it our way. If the challengers are part of it, we can be sure they will destroy the concept, and we'll be back to square one in a contest we don't want.

Now, that's what Ernesto did, basically, more or less, give or take.

He definitively broke with tradition and created a different concept for the event.

At the very least, it should be something to consider. Whatever the motivation, it's a different way of looking at America's Cup; maybe it's even an improvement, one that's right for this century.

Anyway, that's what Ernesto did.

What he didn't do, was sell it.

Ernesto's radical new concept was wrapped in the argot of the legal document known as the Protocol for the 33rd Edition of the America's Cup.

It was casually, officiously and arrogantly thrown in the face of the America's Cup community at yet another pompous, one-sided Valencia press conference, without any kind of pre-amble, pre-sell, discussion, presentation, articulation, introduction, explanation, elucidation or celebration of what, in fact, might actually be a reasonable, although controversial, concept.

Ernesto didn't articulate anything, and perhaps couldn't. His lawyers only did lawyerly things. Brad Butterworth, a good lad from the Waikato, did his best, but he didn't explain the grand design either. Nobody did.

As a result, everyone in the America's Cup community became confused, frustrated, angry, fearful, worried, and majorly concerned in a major way.

And when the dust settles, and everyone reads and finally digests the protocol, they go bats**t. Some more than others.

The tragedy isn't that Ernesto came up with a new concept.

But he didn't explain it.

What actually happened is that everyone evaluated the new concept for the America's Cup by the old rules of the America's Cup.

And by the old rules, the new concept assuredly fails.

Ernesto might have pulled the cat out of the coals, but as the weeks rolled by, he became even more arrogant, more defensive and more aggressive in his remarks.

What the world has been watching -- Ernesto among them -- is a new concept sailing into the headwind of an old protocol, the venerable Deed of Gift itself.

Now the concept is languishing in the New York Supreme Court, where, on October 22, it will be adjudicated by the rules it was intended to replace.

Ernesto may be a smart man. But nobody I know has ever made, unnecessarily, a bigger blunder.

On Friday, look for Part II:
What Ernesto must do now.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Oh, and by the way, Ernesto, next time, wear a tie

Show some respect for the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) and Commodore Townsend.

Wear a tie.

Button your jacket.

Take your hand out of your pocket.

And while I guess it's hard for you to keep your clammy hand off the America's Cup trophy, show a little restraint.

The Commodore isn't going to sweep the Auld Mug from your grasp.

Not now, anyway.

But you can be assured, a team nominated by NYYC will, later, on an arm of the sea, somewhere.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Ernesto brings the Cup (and the Big Lie) to New York

The Prince of Alinghi, Ernesto Bertarelli,
the Auld Mug, and Commodore Charles Townsend
in the Model Room of the New York Yacht Club,
October 3, 2007.

Listen to this.

It's Ernesto Bertarelli (SUI), Prince of Alinghi, quoted in interview conducted October 4, 2007, at the New York Yacht Club, by Aaron Kuriloff of Bloomberg News:

"Bertarelli, 42, who successfully defended the Cup for landlocked Switzerland in July in the waters off Valencia, Spain, sat by the limestone fireplace in the (New York Yacht) club's Model Room explaining why he'd like to change the rules for the world's oldest sporting championship and is willing to fight for those changes in an Oct. 22 court hearing.

"When we thought of the vision of the 33rd America's Cup, a very strong underlying theme -- that maybe is not shared with some disgruntled competitors -- was to reduce cost," Bertarelli said. 'I think a lot of people see what we're trying to do. We have five competitors entered and more that are coming. But we're not pleasing everyone and that's unfortunate."

Kuriloff's article continues, as per usual.

Accept what Bertarelli says. Slam billionaires and their toys. And in an inspired twist, quote an authority from the sidelines. In this case, Paul Henderson (CAN), a former President of the International Sailing Federation, the sport's governing body, which, as Kuriloff says, "has almost no control over the America's Cup".

"Such feuds diminish what should be sailing's equivalent of golf's Master's Tournament, or tennis's Wimbledon, Henderson said in a telephone interview", according to Kuriloff.

"Big boys and their big toys," (Henderson) says. "They bring it all down with these lawsuits and I think 'What in the hell is wrong with these people?'"

Well, Mr. Henderson, we wonder what in the hell is wrong with you.

Just in case you haven't been paying attention, everyone can live with 90-foot boats (people are very excited about 90-foot boats), the design rules, the two-year turnaround, and virtually everything else to do with the concept of America's Cup 33. Nobody is protesting that; not Russell Coutts (NZL), CEO and skipper of BMW Oracle; not Larry Ellison (USA), Oracle chief; not Tom Ehman (USA), head of external affairs for BMW Oracle.

The beef, as we all know, is (1) the legitimacy of the Challenger of Record, Club Náutico Español de Vela (CNEV), and (2) the lack of challenger involvement in the planning of the challenger event and the conduct of racing, a huge break with tradition.

If Mr. Henderson is, as he presents himself, a stickler for fair play, in the great tradition of the Masters and Wimbledon, he clearly has turned a blind eye to Bertarelli's plans for the management and conduct of AC33.

All in all, quite an amazing couple of days.

Ernesto dissembling in the Model Room at 37 West 44th Street in New York.

Blaming Ellison, yet again.

And a whining note from a former office holder of the International Sailing Federation.

Can you believe this?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Nevertheless, Ernesto's head is still in Larry's noose

But, frankly, he doesn't care.

However secretly Ernesto Bertarelli (SUI), Prince of Alinghi, may fear (or wonder about) the looming Supreme Court of New York hearing (October 22, 2007), he doesn't show it.

Despite the conversation reported last week between himself and Larry Ellison (USA), Chief of BMW Oracle, which they have both kept secret, anyone who thinks Ernesto will suddenly be gifted with generosity and kindness to all challengers, both those declared and those considering, well, they are sorely mistaken.

Ernesto is a man who will not surrender anything he thinks he owns, not a thing, nothing, unless it is ripped from his hands and his heart by the power of God. It would take God to move him. And then, you can be sure, he would resist it.

Right now, Ernesto owns everything that has to do with America's Cup 33.

Unless you mis-read that sentence, that's everything.


And by own, we do mean own. America's Cup 33 is his property, nobody else's. Nobody else on the planet has a piece of it, or in Ernesto's mind, ever will. It's a grace-and-favor enterprise from beginning to end -- his grace, and his favor. And there's precious little of either in the make up of this extraordinary man.

What we are dealing with is a not-so-tiny piece of human pathology that transcends virtually anything anyone could ever possibly assume is 'normal'.

By any reasonable estimation, we are dealing with an individual above whom no-one else can exist, greater than whom no mortal can be, richer, more talented, more skilled, more intelligent, more insightful, smarter, cleverer, or more charming than whom, is something that simply cannot be imagined.

Ernesto has built a pedestal; no, a pinnacle. He sits atop it.

And there is only one person he allows to share the spotlight with him; his lovely wife, Kristy.

Meanwhile, back down here on planet earth, America's Cup, frankly, is no longer a famous sporting event, the oldest in organized sport, conducted with respect and goodwill among like-minded souls, an event that belongs to all the nations that compete.

Oh, no. Not at all. Not in any kind of way.

It's now a big, fat, crass, Euro-power event, totally owned, staged, conducted and administered, without a thought for the rest of the world, by one man.

Ernesto, Prince of Alinghi.

And Ernesto will, assuredly, call the shots, exactly as he sees them, whenever he feels like it, and to whatever degree he feels suits him, now and later, now and for the rest of time, unless stopped.

The fact is, there is only one thing that stands between Ernesto and the America's Cup as we know it. It's not Larry Ellison, or anyone else. It's the New York Supreme Court.

Who knows what will happen there?

Like you, we hope that objectivity, honor and integrity will prevail. Like you, we are watching, and waiting. So, too, you can be sure, is Ernesto.

Golden Gate Yacht Club of San Francisco (GGYC) and its nominated team, Larry Ellison's BMW Oracle, are the only participants who have (1) publicly spoken the truth about AC33 and Ernesto's death grip on it; (2) had the guts and the b***s to do anything about it; and in so doing have actually (3) imperiled their own AC33 campaign in order to see that openness, honor, integrity and fairness prevail.

Where are the rest of you?

Literally, where are you?

Larry Ellison has been slammed by Ernesto, Alinghi and their minions. He takes flak from sailing writers around the world. When he reads the same columns all of us read, he sees himself described as a 'feuding billionaire'. Is that the best we can do? I don't think so.

In the interests of total disclosure, my primal allegiances aren't with this team. My passion is this event and all the teams, Alinghi included, who compete fairly for the greatest prize on earth.

But there is only one entity on the planet pushing for honor and integrity in America's Cup.

And it ain't the Prince of Alinghi.

Or any of you.

The noose will tighten October 22.

Or, amazingly, Ernesto will slip the knot and slip away.

Stay posted.