Monday, October 13, 2008

John Bertrand may head Australian Challenge

(By Paul Lewis
The Louis Vuitton Pacific Series has increased to 12 teams, 11 of whom have already entered, while initial hopes that the America's Cup would float itself off the significant legal sandbar on which it has been lodged for 18 months may have been premature.

The announcement that BMW Oracle would lend their two America's Cup class yachts to the LVPS has meant 12 teams can compete - doubling the original six - in the February regatta.

They are: K Challenge (France), Mascalzone Latino (Italy), BMW Oracle (USA), China Team, Team French Spirit, Australia First, Team Shosholoza (South Africa) and Emirates Team New Zealand.

There are unconfirmed reports that the Australian challenge will be headed by John Bertrand, the legendary skipper of Australia II which took the Cup off the Americans in 1983. The only two major syndicates missing from the 2007 America's Cup are holders Alinghi and Desafio Espanol (Spain). There has been no further word on any settlement between Team NZ and Alinghi that would see the Swiss attend the LVPS but, given the lack of action on the America's Cup front, that is hardly surprising.

However, there is still one spot clear - although 23 teams have expressed interest and it may be that Alinghi's spot is being held open in case they decide they want to come to the party. However, if Alinghi were to attend, they might be faced with the scenario of racing in one of Oracle's boats - a thundering irony considering the vexed court battle between the two syndicates which has hog-tied the Cup.

Hopes were high for a time that the first face-to-face meeting between the Battling Billionaires, Alinghi's Ernesto Bertarelli and Oracle's Larry Ellison, might obviate all the tedious court action. But a follow-up meeting did not take place and Bertarelli's comments since have suggested that he will keep pursuing the next America's Cup as he wants it.

Which means the next action - unless the two compromise - will likely be the court ruling on Oracle's appeal against Alinghi. If Oracle win, there will be a giant trimaran, head-to-head challenge for the America's Cup between the two, likely in 2010. If Alinghi win, it will be a multi-challenger regatta in either 2010 or 2011.

But, while the court action continues to send everyone off to sleep, at least there will be racing involving top yachts and sailors on the Waitemata Harbour next year. -