Yachting: Standoff may spark Cup-like regattas

By Paul Lewis

The next steps in the becalmed and beleaguered America's Cup saga are likely to see the emergence of new, Cup-like, global yachting regattas involving Louis Vuitton.

Alinghi and Oracle continue their remarkable inability to agree on anything - meaning the Cup could bounce back into court if Alinghi maintain their insistence the one-on-one America's Cup challenge in giant multi-hulls should be run in May 2010 rather than the February 8 date as set down by the US Court of Appeal.

However, this time, court action is unlikely to delay matters and, as Emirates Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton put it yesterday "the clock will not stop ticking now".

Perhaps the most interesting facet is the possible - if not probable - emergence of the Louis Vuitton series as a genuine, global series to take up some of the slack between now and 2010 (and 2011, when the next multi-challenger America's Cup will be held).

The inaugural Louis Vuitton Pacific Series, held in Auckland this summer, was highly successful and Vuitton emissary Bruno Trouble has been flying round the world, looking at the possibility of similar regattas.

While all involved are careful to position the possibility of the regattas running 'alongside' the America's Cup, there is little doubt such a development, if it occurs, will tighten the screws on the Swiss Cup holders.

"Discussions are continuing," said Dalton, "there's quite a bit to be put together and it's not something that can be done in five minutes."

However, yachting sources have hinted that Louis Vuitton, Oracle and Team NZ could reprise their roles as instigators of a Vuitton series - with regattas likely in Auckland again, San Francisco (home of Oracle's Golden Gate Yacht Club), Valencia and maybe an Asian venue, probably Hong Kong but possibly Singapore.

"It makes sense to do something like that," said Dalton, "and it has the support of all the America's Cup teams. It gets people back on the water and it's pretty obvious, from what has happened over the past 18 months, that you can't allow a defender to dictate terms to challengers.

"The America's Cup has always been played on a much more level field than it is now. Alinghi's tactics have been to divide and conquer, but this [the Louis Vuitton regattas] would allow challengers to act collectively in the same way, for example, as the manufacturers do in Formula 1 motor racing," said Dalton.

"The Acts [America's Cup pre-regattas] proved hugely successful and this would be using the same principle and might also make Alinghi consult and listen to a collective of challengers.

"They will say they have consulted and listened but there is a difference between consultation and being part of the decision-making process."

It is not known yet if any Vuitton regattas will involve Team NZ and Oracle boats, or whether teams might bring their own boats.

Meanwhile, most attention is now on the 'big boat' challenge date. Most observers believe the court date of February overrides the America's Cup Deed of Gift stipulation of May - for which Alinghi is arguing.

Asked if he thought Oracle might agree to a May date, Dalton said: "Why should they? Why would they give them any more time to prepare?"

Oracle have been trialling their 90-foot trimaran, worth about $20 million. Alinghi are still building a huge catamaran and some have wondered if Alinghi is foxing by waiting to build a craft more suited to light airs than Oracle's 'rocket ship'.

Finding a light airs venue in Europe in February would be difficult unless Alinghi chose - as is their right - to race at a Southern Hemisphere regatta.

- Herald on Sunday

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