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Mon 11 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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No end in sight for Cup chaos

The chaos and numerous shenanigans surrounding the America’s Cup continue unabated, says Julian Everitt.

Why are we surprised? The shenanigans surrounding the America's Cup filled many column inches in the media,and that includes electronic, magazine and newspapers around the world.

Every argument gets aired about the benefits - or otherwise - of this extraordinary event from those who say; "What is the point of it all - how does it benefit the ordinary yachtsmen," to; "It's the ultimate Grand Prix event, the pinnacle and the only truly development-led yachting event left".

Ernesto Bertarelli is wrong to want to take away the automatic rights of the defender to compete in the America's Cup final. And it smacks of double standards to try to push this idea through his suggested new America's Cup protocol.

By winning the Auld Mug in 2007, the Alinghi boss achieved the right to do what he wants (within reason) with the next Cup. But now he wants to take away this privilege, for all time, from any future winners.

I return to my theme of several months ago. What the America's Cup needs is an independent commercial operator, a Formula One style Bernie Ecclestone character, who doesn't interfere with the rules of the sailing , but gives the event a firm commercial footing.

This would allow new challengers to plan their assaults on the Cup, knowing that the non sailing aspects of the event are under the control of a non partisan entity.

The America's Cup is unique in sport - let alone in yacht racing. Bertarelli, having had the privilege of competing in this remarkable event, wants to take the esoteric nature of it away from future sailors, designers, builders and owners, turning it into just another mediocre sailboat regatta.

And this all poses an interesting question. When and if the 90ft 'Cat' challenge goes ahead in October this year (this is looking increasingly likely as there is no sign of an accord between the Swiss and the Americans) and if Alinghi win the best of three races against Oracle, then will we be back to square one with the megalomaniacal Swiss Billionaire, back in the driving seat, bringing out yet another 'modernist-vision' for the oldest sailing Trophy in sport? His chances of winning and putting the Cup on hold for even longer, are 50/50. After all, there is no favourite with this challenge between giant multihulls.

Ellison Oracle Team may have had a little longer to prepare design ideas, but Bertarelli has a lot of personal experience of driving high performance multihulls. In a best of three format (part of the original Deed of Gift) the sailing could all be over very quickly.

But whoever wins please let us return to a measurement formula for the boats and an event that respects technological development. That's what it's supposed to be about. If you don't like it go race a Hobbie.

After the 'cat' defence in 1988, when Dennis Conner effectively put an end to the New Zealand hijack of the Cup, it was wrongly - as it turned out - assumed that an America's Cup reverting to the original Deed of Gift, could not happen again! How wrong they were!

On a different note, the old saying that it is not over till it's over was never more appropriate than in regard to Francois Joyon's record busting Round the World solo bid. Just 3,000 miles from the finish line and a cool 2,500 miles plus ahead of the current record holder Dame Ellen McArthur's pace, the main halyard snapped and the pace dropped from a shattering 500 miles per day to a more pedestrian 250.

But worse was to happen. While climbing the mast to effect repairs, Joyon hurt his ankle, but then found that the starboard main shroud was about to detach itself from the mast! As I write this he hasn't made it home yet, but with such a huge margin over the existing record, I hope he does.

More significant is the fact that the final 1,000 miles of the trip is through the North Atlantic in winter. This can be as punishing as almost anything the Southern Ocean can dish up. But who said making records was easy. It can all go amazingly smoothly all the way, but until you cross that finishing line the record isn't yours.

And finally, as an antidote to the America's Cup, its good to see the Little America's Cup back again in the headlines. Actually its real name is the International Catamaran Challenge Trophy, but Little America's Cup is what it became known as once the UK first challenged the Americans for it 46 years ago.

Started in 1961 by the Sea Cliff Yacht Club of New York with more than a tongue in cheek reference to the craziness of the big Americas Cup, the LAC was formulated as a match race between 25ft long catamarans under a formula called the C Class Rule. Actually a 'box-rule for catamarans. 25ft by 14ft with a maximum sail area of 300 sq ft. That was about it.

Wingmasts were refined and developed under this rule - encouraged by an International Match Race formula that resulted first in complete domination by the UK and then in turn by Australia and America. Now the Canadian's join the party since Fred Eaton and Magnus Clarke took the trophy from the previously all conquering America cat Cogito.

While this event has waxed and waned in popularity, much like the America's Cup itself, it has proved to be an enduring measurement rule and one that has produced some very exciting match races.

I guess if you want outright speed in your match race contestants, rather then the more sedate pace of a mere monohull (box rule or otherwise) - then Ellison's America's Cup 'vision' of a 90ft by 90ft catamaran starts to look like a pretty smart idea. Maybe they could get some tips on how to run the event from their Little America's Cup brethren!

Better known in the Middle East for his powerboat designs for Al Yousuf, Julian Everitt has a successful design practice that has produced many race winning racing yacht designs over the past 30 years. He has also been Editor of the Royal Ocean Racing Club's magazine Seahorse and a columnist for Asian Marine.

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