March 20, 2008 - The New York State Supreme Court yesterday denied two challenges to its September 28, 2007 ruling, which declared that Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) had filed a valid Deed of Gift challenge for the America 's Cup. The Cup, oldest active trophy in international sport (1851), is officially up for grabs for the 33rd time, and this time there’s a twist.
According to the Deed of Gift, the challenger may decide what size and type of boat will be used. Larry Ellison, prime mover at Golden Gate YC and owner of the BMW Oracle Racing team has declared that BMW Oracle will sail a catamaran. Catamarans are twin hulled boats and much faster than their single hulled counterparts.
Thus, as has happened in the past, the current holders of the cup will be unable to use the yacht with which they successfully defended it less than a year earlier. This is an old tactic in America's Cup competitions - most recently employed in the 1988 cup match. That year, Dennis Conner and San Diego YC had only recently repatriated the cup when Michael Fay, who in the 1987 AC campaigned “Kiwi Magic” a fiberglass 12 meter yacht, filed a new challenge and named an already completed 90 footer as the challenger of record. With its winning yacht sure to be defeated by Fay’s 90 foot entry, and with only 8 months to design and build a challenger, San Diego YC opted to enter a multi-hull. The rules did not prohibit this, and Conner went on to soundly defeat “ New Zealand ” in a notable mismatch.
With precedent firmly in place, Ellison made his new challenge and predictably, the courts again ruled in favor of the challenger. Yesterday’s ruling orders the current holder of the cup, Societe Nautique de Geneve (SNG), and the Alinghi syndicate to meet Ellison and his BMW Oracle catamaran head to head in a winner take all showdown. Regardless of the fact that it is undisputedly the fastest IACC yacht in existence, Alinghi, a monohull, will have no chance against a catamaran, and thus, like the San Diego YC before them, SNG will need to start from scratch.
Lucien Masmejan, SNG lead counsel, issued a biting response to the ruling: “Following today’s court order, Larry Ellison has eliminated the competition and gained access to the America’s Cup Match, a feat BMW Oracle Racing has never been able to achieve on the water.”
Tom Ehman, Golden Gate YC spokesman, said: “We are very pleased with this decision. The court has ruled that our challenge complied fully with the Cup’s Deed of Gift, and we are now keen to keep moving forward towards the next regatta.”
Due to the fact that there will only be two competitors in the regatta; defender Alinghi and challenger BMW Oracle, the Louis Vuitton Cup, an elimination series for challengers, will not be held. French fashion designer Vuitton had sponsored the challenger regatta since 1983.
This is not the “auld mug’s” first visit to the New York courts. There have been many. In that 1988 challenge, the court ruled in favor of challenger Fay. Since 1958, the regatta had been sailed in 12 meters (65-75 feet in length). Fay previously sponsored “Kiwi Magic”, dubbed the “Plastic Fantastic” by sailors after skipper Chris Dixon swept his way undefeated into the final match of the 1987 Louis Vuitton Cup – only to lose to Dennis Connor in “Stars and Stripes,” which later went on to reclaim the cup.
The 1987 regatta became the high point of national interest in the cup. Millions of Americans stayed up late to watch Conner and Stars and Stripes bring the cup home. When the legal turmoil of 1988 began and sailors began to cross national boundaries, the lines blurred and interest in the cup declined.
Today, the battle lines have been drawn for the 33rd and possibly last time. To add to the confusion, dates are not yet set. The match could take place as early as this summer, although BMW Oracle prefers October 2008, and Alinghi has proposed a date of July 2009. Whatever happens, the months of litigation have once again damaged the America's Cup image and its future is now questionable. With the latest ruling, several teams are on the verge of dissolving, while others have lost sponsors and will not likely be seen again if there should be another large regatta in 2011.