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America's Cup starts amid legal squabbles

It's hardly surprising, but it appears the 33rd America's Cup, scheduled to start Feb. 8 in Valencia, Spain, could go off under a legal cloud.

That was the likelihood after a breakdown in negotiations between challenger BMW Oracle and defender Alinghi 5 in Singapore.

The sails on Alinghi 5 are the latest sticking point in the Cup race.

The talks, convened Jan. 12, were supposed to have thrashed out - among other things - whether Alinghi must construct its sails in Switzerland, home country of its sponsoring club, Societe Nautique de Geneve (SNG), to comply with the Deed of Gift rules that govern Cup competition.

Alinghi first argued that the deed requires only that the boat, not the sails, be built in the club's home country. Then the Swiss team said its sails were, in fact, built in Switzerland.

BMW Oracle, however, says it has proof that Alinghi's 3DL sails were "molded and constructed" at the North Sails loft in Minden, Nev. The Swiss responded that two Swiss engineers, Pierre Baudet and Luc Dubois, invented 3DL sailmaking and own the intellectual property rights to the process. BMW Oracle and its sponsoring Golden Gate Yacht Club say that's immaterial: Construction still must be done at home.

The negotiations broke down with both sides claiming the other had walked out. BMW Oracle blamed the Swiss for refusing to agree to a "mutual consent" formula for developing rules for this Cup race. Alinghi blamed its rival for killing the negotiations by filing a suit Jan. 13 asking the New York Supreme Court to rule on the whether the Swiss sails are compliant with the Deed of Gift.

Less than three weeks before the scheduled start, BMW Oracle was saying if the two sides don't resolve the issue before Feb. 8, it will race under protest. That could throw the outcome into the courts, where both sides have said all along they don't want this Cup decided.

BMW Oracle's 90-foot trimaran and Alinghi's 90-foot catamaran are scheduled to race a best-of-three match. BMW Oracle has said it would be willing to reschedule to a later date if Alinghi concedes its sails are not deed-compliant and decides it has to build a new set in Switzerland.

"Once again the defender has walked away from the opportunity to resolve the litigation and all other issues surrounding the 33rd America's Cup," BMW Oracle spokesman Tom Ehman says.

"GGYC's representatives clearly bear the substantial responsibility of the negotiations' failure," counters Fred Meyer, SNG's vice commodore. "While Alinghi representatives were acting in good faith in Singapore, GGYC lawyers filed a factually and legally baseless motion with the New York Supreme Court," says Meyer.

For a Cup overview - including a look at the boats, the technology and the legal wrangling, plus video of both vessels under way - go to; keywords: Dispatches Cup.

This article originally appeared in the Home Waters Section of the March 2010 issue.