Crew training for a regatta with no date

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Amid legal wrangling, Alinghi and BMW Oracle prepare to race for the America’s Cup in 90-foot multihulls

Amid legal wrangling, Alinghi and BMW Oracle prepare to race for the America’s Cup in 90-foot multihulls

Now that the way is clear for Alinghi and BMW Oracle to race in 90-foot multihulls, the America’s Cup is back in Judge Herman J. Cahn’s New York courtroom to litigate the 33rd Cup’s dates and to decide if BMW Oracle has given Alinghi fair notice of the race and enough time to prepare for it.

Cup defender Alinghi says it can’t build a 90-foot multihull by Oct. 1, the date challenger BMW Oracle has set for the first in a three-race series between the two teams under terms of the America’s Cup deed of gift. BMW says Alinghi has had plenty of time to build a boat and that it’s just dragging its feet.

“Both teams have known the rules from Day One. We have both had the same time to prepare. It is time for the defender to stop making excuses and race,” wrote BMW Oracle/Golden Gate Yacht Club spokesman Tom Ehman on the yacht club’s Web site (www.ggyc.com ).

Ehman said Alinghi president Ernesto Bertarelli confirmed as early as last December that he was preparing for a multihull race in July 2008, the original date set for the challenge.

Bertarelli claims BMW Oracle has gone back on its word to move the race dates back because of the ongoing litigation.

“America’s Cup racing vessels cost tens of millions of dollars to build, and it did not make sense for SNG (Societe Nautique de Geneve) to incur such expenses on a boat to meet GGYC’s challenge when SNG thought GGYC’s challenge to be invalid,” Bertarelli’s attorneys wrote in recent court filings.

“GGYC continues to mislead SNG,” Bertarelli says on Alinghi’s Web site (www.aligni.com ). “It had agreed to suspend the 10-month notice period for the duration of the legal proceedings, however now wants to force us to race in a time frame that won’t allow SNG to prepare its defense …,”

Ehman, answering in the ongoing war of words, said Bertarelli’s claim of an agreement to stop the clock during litigation is “simply not true.”

A third take on the latest court action comes from Grant Dalton, managing director ofEmirates Team New Zealand, which is suing Alinghi for alleged damages caused by delaying the next multi-challenger Cup to 2011, which Bertarelli says is the soonest it can be organized after Alinghi and BMW meet.

“Alinghi has had as much time to design and build a multihull as BMW Oracle,” Dalton wrote in an e-mail to the press. “It is apparent that Alinghi was so certain of a victory in the New York Supreme Court that it had not developed a viable contingency should the judge rule in BMW Oracle’s favour.”

Dalton says if Alinghi can’t get a boat on the water by October, it should forfeit the Cup, “allowing BMW Oracle and the other challengers to get the America’s Cup back on track and minimising challengers’ continuing financial hardship …”

Dalton claims that the current mess — Alinghi and Oracle meeting in a two-boat Cup series in 2008 or 2009, followed by a multi-challenger series in 2011 — is a result of Alinghi trying to ramrod a one-sided 33rd Cup protocol through with the connivance of a Spanish club set up specifically to work with Alinghi as challenger of record, without input from other challengers. When Judge Cahn rejected the Spanish club as a legitimate challenger, Oracle became the default challenger of record under the deed of gift, which stipulates a two-boat, three-race series unless defender and challenger decide otherwise. Oracle has offered a new protocol for a multi-challenger series that includes input from all the challengers, but Alinghi has rejected it, according to Oracle.

Under the deed of gift race format, BMW as challenger must tell Alinghi what kind of boat it plans to race (it has said it will be a 90-foot multihull) and give Alinghi 10 months notice of the race dates. BMW issued its challenge July 11, 2007, for a race July 4, 6 and 8 this year and amended those race dates last December to Oct. 1, 3 and 5. The change in dates gave Alinghi 10 months notice from New York Supreme Court Judge Cahn’s Nov. 27 decision invalidating the Spanish club’s challenge and recognizing BMW as challenger of record. Alinghi asked Cahn to rehear the case, lost the rehearing and now is asking the court to give it 10 months from the judge’s March 17 rehearing decision to build its boat, though it acknowledges that 10 months from March 17 really isn’t feasible as a race date because that would put the Cup in January — mid-winterin Valencia. Rather than race in winter, Alinghi has asked the judge to delay the Cup until July 2009.

BMW says Alinghi’s request for both the rehearing and the July 2009 race dates are delaying tactics. “We really need a clear ruling so we can move on,” Ehman said.

Attorneys for Alinghi and BMW Oracle met in Judge Cahn’s courtroom April 2 for a hearing to set the dates of the 33rd America’s Cup. Alinghi asked for July 1, 2009, but said it could have a boat on the water as soon as May 1, 2009. BMW Oracle said the deed of gift requires a date of October 2008. The judge said he would decide on a date but was concerned that whatever date he picked it could be meaningless if appealed. On April 14, SNG announced that it planned to file an immediate appeal with the New York Appellate Court in order to accelerate the current legal process to return the America's Cup to the water with a competitive race.