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Cup Squabbles

Cup squabble settled — for now at least

It appears the America’s Cup will be in Valencia, Spain, in February — not the Persian Gulf or Australia. And, as if racing a 90-foot trimaran equipped with diesel-powered winches and water ballast system weren’t radical enough, BMW Oracle Racing might be powering its trimaran with a 190-foot-tall rigid wing.

BMW Oracle trials its new 190-foot-tall rigid wing.

BMW Oracle (BOR) unveiled the carbon fiber wing Nov. 8, a few days after snapping its $10 million carbon mast in moderate winds and flat seas off Point Loma, Calif. Designed with flaps, the rigid wing is 80 percent larger than that of a 747 airliner, 47 feet longer than the wing on an Airbus, the team says.

“A wing of this scale has never been built for a boat,” BOR said in a press release after their first short sea trial with the wing in November off San Diego.

BOR planned to test the radical rig through November as it prepares to meet Alinghi in the 33rd America’s Cup, which appears will be a best-of-three series Feb. 8-12, weather permitting.

If the weather is bad (and the notice defines that as anything more than 15 knots of wind or 3.3-foot waves), the teams will have from Feb. 15-25 to race, according to the Notice of Race, which Alinghi published Nov. 10 after a weekend of negotiations about the venue.

But like a prospectus, most forward-looking statements about the 33rd Cup must be couched in “mights” and “maybes” because in the battle of the billionaires — BOR’s Larry Ellison, the challenger, and Alinghi’s Ernesto Bertarelli, the defender — literally every move to lay the groundwork for the next Cup has been grist for litigation in this grudge match between the two antagonists.

Following the weekend negotiations, the two camps issued press releases confirming they had agreed on Valencia in February for the regatta after 28 months of sparring in the courts over venue and rules and who should be the challenger of record (Golden Gate Yacht Club or Nautico Espanol de Vela).

Alinghi wanted to race off Ras al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates, but a New York Court said the Cup either has to be in Valencia in February — to comply with an earlier court ruling — or in the southern hemisphere, to comply with the Deed of Gift, which says winter racing must be south of the equator.

After the court rejected Ras al-Khaimah, Alinghi proposed Proserpine/Airlie Beach and Townsville in Australia as venues where weather conditions are “more suitable” than Valencia in February, but BOR has said that Valencia — site of the last Cup — is ready to accommodate the teams. Any other location would require further delays to prepare the team bases.

The Cup is not out of the legal thicket yet. At press time Alinghi’s appeal of the judges’ ruling against racing in Ras al-Khaimah was still pending, as was a motion by the Golden Gate Yacht Club, BOR’s club sponsor, to remove Société Nautique de Geneve, Alinghi’s club, as the Cup trustee for breach of fiduciary duty. Essentially, BOR alleges Alinghi has undermined the Cup by trying to manipulate it for its own exclusive benefit. The report of a panel of sailing experts assembled by the court to examine the rules that Alinghi has proposed is still out. Alinghi also still had its offer of an Australian venue on the table for negotiation.

Despite the morass of litigation, the Cup is drawing interest, mainly because of the size and power of the boats. They are behemoths — both of carbon fiber. Challenger BOR has built a 90-by-90 trimaran, defender Alinghi a 90-foot catamaran.

This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue.