Saturday, January 10, 2009

It's been real

This all started, as it did for everyone, as a shocked reaction to the rape, pillage and plunder of the America's Cup Protocol by someone we all thought we knew.

Someone who was a good sailor, a great competitor, and a powerful victor.

Someone who had proven himself as an entrepreneur and sportsman -- and who distinguished himself as the salt-water impressario who staged one of the greatest regattas ever, maybe the best America's Cup ever, at a custom-built haven in Valencia, Spain, a venue just made for sailing, international fellowship, and fun.

Someone, in fact, whose name, story and credentials we felt truly belonged on the Auld Mug, sharply and deeply engraved, for all of us to see, for all time.

Then, as July 4, 2007 faded in the rear view mirror, our shock turned to amazement and disbelief.

Ultimately, it turned to disgust.

The transformation of Ernesto Bertarelli (SUI), chief of Alinghi, from a great sailor into the worst kind of America's Cup mogul astonished all of us.

Here was a great competitor, who had accomplished everything, and had everything to look forward to in the future, maybe forever. 

Here was someone who could become, in all of our estimations, his own kind of Ted Turner, his own kind of Dennis Connor, his own kind of Sir Peter Blake.

But Ernesto chose another path.

Powered by his victory, blind to everyone who didn't win, and arrogant about America's Cup traditions, Ernesto chose to become someone none of us ever expected to see, and never knew existed on the planet.

He became the Ugliest Custodian of the Cup in History.

And he defined his status in the New World Order in ways that no other America's Cup victor ever had.

He announced the Protocol for AC33 in a global press conference. Confronted with reasonable questions, he abruptly told the gathered throngs of media and team executives, effectively, to f*** off. Then, amazingly, left the stage.

That bizarre behavior left even more heads wagging -- even among his own team members and his own yacht club.

In that single, defiant act, Ernesto not only alarmed his own retainers, but effectively declared war on the old protocol, on those who supported it, and on anyone who traditionally believed in the venerable America's Cup of the New York Yacht Club and the great George Schuyler, author of the Deed of Gift.

As the months rolled by, Ernesto did very little publicly. He visited the U.S. and the New York Yacht Club (NYYC), he shook hands for camera, and he sailed boats whenever he had the opportunity.

Otherwise, he disappeared.

Meanwhile, Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) of San Francisco, sponsoring club of BMWOracle Racing, led by Larry Ellison (USA), did everything they felt they had to do to call the Emperor's new clothes and debate the egregious demands on the protocol by Ernesto and his Alpine gang. And GGYC and their legal retainers petitioned the New York courts to agree.

We've all followed those proceedings, helped enormously by Cory Friedman, an officer of the New York courts.

Meanwhile, Ernesto kept away from the game, threw lawyers into the breach, threw out Kiwi lawyers, threw in Swiss lawyers, and did little else.

Although, we admit, he did admit, publicly, that he could have made a better case to introduce his ideas and ambitions for AC33 at the outset -- a commentary curiously similar to an argument proposed some weeks earlier by America's Cup View (here) and in a second post (here).

Nevertheless, the AC world collapsed.

Sponsors perfected an amazing disappearing act -- preceeded by the greatest sponsor of them all, Louis Vuitton, founding sponsor of the AC Challenger series, who later engineered a fabulous AC-style event to be held this February, in the Hauraki Gulf, in Auckland, New Zealand.

Not to be deterred by public opinion and unpleasant legal events, Ernesto and his gang orchestrated a pastiche of an America's Cup, curiously still called America's Cup 33.

Teams from around the world that employ sailors and technical crews have entered the event, cheerfully ignoring the vagaries of AC33 in favor of employing sailors and engaging sponsors.

We respect that.

In the meantime, New York courts will decide if that particular AC33 happens -- or if a Dennis Connor-Michael Fay-style America's Cup happens -- in gigantic multihulls.

After that, it's anyone's guess.

One thing is enormously certain. America's Cup has changed.

We believe it's diminished.

We believe Ernesto's behavior has shrunk the event.

We believe it will take enormous effort and energy and trust to rebuild it.

To achieve that, some say, first remove Ernesto.

We tend to agree.

At the real world level, however, there are positive signs that encourage all of us who love sailing, love competition on the water, and love America's Cup:

(1) First, the honorable actor in all of this -- Larry Ellison -- has continued to put honor before dollars, has separated himself from the farce that is AC33, and has continued to put his trust in the New York courts to act in a rational way for the benefit of the America's Cup, for all time. And the New York Yacht Club has supported him in this. 

We wish Ellison the best, and we sincerely and respectfully urge him to stay the course.

In addition  . . . 

(2) There is an ad hoc, grassroots effort currently afoot to create a viable entry for AC33 from an online community of sailors, critics, and assorted salt-water enthusiasts who, given just a little bit of support, might just actually be able to pull off a viable candidacy for the event.

It's the Sailing Anarchy Yacht Club (SAYC). 

SAYC have some hesitation about entering into the event on Ernesto's terms. But to a person, they are passionate believers in the ideals of America's Cup, in every possible and conceivable way. And this outspoken membership believes they can meet the demands of America's Cup Management, or whomever, including the demands for cash.

So we encourage them enormously. Perhaps you can support them.

Given that, there is not much else for us to do.

It has been an amazing journey.

We are out of indignation.

We are out of words.