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Sailing: America's Cup racers hope to sort out sails issue

Defending syndicate Alinghi, here testing in United Arab Emirates in August, faces questions about the sails it will use next month.

Associated Press

Defending syndicate Alinghi, here testing in United Arab Emirates in August, faces questions about the sails it will use next month.

SAN DIEGO — America's Cup challenger BMW Oracle Racing said earlier this week that defending champion Alinghi of Switzerland is willing to meet to discuss the American syndicate's claim that the Swiss are planning to use illegal sails when the rivals meet in February in Valencia, Spain.

As with everything else about this America's Cup, though, coming to an agreement on the latest contentious issue could be difficult.

BMW Oracle Racing said earlier in December that the Swiss have been using sails built at North Sails in Minden, Nev., while testing their giant catamaran, Alinghi 5.

The Americans say that's a violation of the constructed-in-country (CIC) clause in the 19th century Deed of Gift, which requires the yachts to be built in the country of the yacht club they represent. Last week, they told the Swiss yacht club Societe Nautique de Geneve that the CIC clause means the hull, appendages, mast and sails.

In a letter to San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club, which backs BMW Oracle Racing, SNG vice commodore Fred Meyer responded that the Deed of Gift "only requires the 'yacht or vessel' be constructed in the respective country and does not expressly impose obligations in respect of any of the separate components onboard the yacht or vessel.

"We remain willing to meet and discuss to resolve any concerns you may have, although until there is certainty as to what 'yacht or vessel' SNG will declare for the Match the issue would appear to be theoretical and moot until then."

Tom Ehman, a spokesman for BMW Oracle Racing and GGYC, disagreed.

"It's clear as a bell, and everyone in the world knows what CIC means," Ehman said. "You don't have a yacht without sails. It's propelled by sails only. It's one of the key pieces of gear."

He pointed out that in the early years of the America's Cup, challenging yachts had to sail across the ocean to the site of the match.

Ehman said the only time the Deed's nationality requirements didn't apply is when different rules were reached by mutual consent for the last America's Cup.

"We're not going to stand around and let them willfully break the rules," Ehman said. "The rules are clear."

Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth recently told the Associated Press that the syndicate was building its sails in Villeneuve, Switzerland. That's where the Swiss built their 90-foot catamaran. St. Petersburg's Ed Baird is the helmsman.

"First they claim their sails are built in Switzerland, now they're saying they don't have to be built in Switzerland," Ehman said. "We don't know what to expect."

Ehman said that what Alinghi buys from North Sails isn't a simple, off-the-shelf item widely available around the world, but custom, technologically sophisticated sails built specifically for Alinghi 5.

"Virtually every racing sailor in the world knows North Sails' molded construction is proprietary and unique to its Minden plant in the USA," Ehman said. "It is the only place in the world where such sails are constructed. Nevada is not Switzerland."

Ehman said the sails issue is the most obvious of a handful of violations of the CIC clause. He also said Alinghi made a major modification to Alinghi 5 in Ras al-Khaimah, United Arab Emirates. The Swiss hoped to stage the America's Cup in RAK but a New York court said the Persian Gulf port didn't meet the requirements of the Deed of Gift. That decision was upheld by an appeals court earlier this month.

If the sides can't resolve the sails issue, GGYC will take it to the International Jury, Ehman said. The syndicate also has hinted at postmatch litigation if the issue isn't settled before racing.

The best-of-three showdown for the oldest trophy in international sports is scheduled to begin Feb. 8. There apparently had been an agreement in place to make it a best-of-seven series starting Feb. 12, but Alinghi reportedly backed out of that deal.

BMW Oracle Racing will sail a 90-by-90-foot trimaran with a wing sail rather than a traditional soft-sail rig.

Sydney to Hobart: New Zealand's Alfa Romeo won the Sydney to Hobart yacht race Monday, completing a start-to-finish victory and relegating four-time and defending champion Wild Oats XI to second place.

Alfa Romeo, skippered by Neville Crichton, crossed the finish at Constitution Dock in Hobart, the capital of the island state of Tasmania, in an official time of 2 days, 9 hours, 2 minutes, well off the race record because of light winds.

Wild Oats XI, which holds the record of 1 day, 18 hours, 40 minutes, set in 2005, finished second, about 2 hours, 3 minutes behind.

Alfa Romeo led the 100-yacht fleet out of Sydney Harbour on Dec. 26 and never relinquished the lead. The New Zealand yacht made it interesting in the final hours, though, when its lead of about 23 miles was trimmed to 14 by Wild Oats XI and skipper Mark Richards.

Sailing: America's Cup racers hope to sort out sails issue 12/31/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 31, 2009 3:30am]

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