Monday, January 26, 2009

Coutts can focus on plain sailing

Photo Juerg Kaufmann.
By Paul Lewis NZ Herald: Russell Coutts is watching intently as Larry Ellison's superyacht gingerly picks its way past the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series yachts at the Viaduct Harbour.

He is grinning at the delicacy of the task - the 183-foot vessel, owned by the billionaire owner of the BMW Oracle syndicate, is tiptoeing past berthed yachts and other obstacles a little like an elephant scared of bee-stings might cross a field of daisies.

"Imagine the cost if you dinged that," says Coutts. "You'd have to haul it out of the water and it'd be a huge bill - even before you got to the cost of the other one," he adds, gesturing at another massive superyacht which has slipped into the shadow of Ellison's craft as it passes.

It's an interesting moment. Listen to the naysayers re Coutts and there is a refrain that he is more CEO than sailor these days; more interested in the money game than the game itself.
But it seems, from watching his face, that this is still a man compelled by matters sailing; with a competitive instinct; who still thinks about the sea as opposed to his BMW Oracle CEO title. He likes the challenge, it is clear, of threading something like the superyacht through the needle at the Viaduct.

He watches the Zenji with the intensity for which he is known - redolent of the day almost 25 years ago when an almost fiercely intense Coutts seemed about to lose his gold medal in the Finn class at the 1984 Olympic regatta at Long Beach, California.

He stood to be disqualified after his gear weighed in heavy but Coutts and the New Zealand yachting team argued for a re-weigh and then another. At the third try, with Coutts himself carefully arranging each garment, the weight finally behaved itself and one of the most famous careers in modern yachting was launched - after he'd revealed he'd sailed the crucial days in the regatta with a burning boil on his bum in the Finn's cramped space and hard seat.

IF THERE'S a boil on the bum of the America's Cup, it is the land-locked, lawyer-choked schemozzle that continues to strand itself on the sand bar of the American legal system. Coutts is relishing the challenge of the Louis Vuitton series, which starts this week, as a chance to get out of the corporate wars and into the game of chess on the water.

Yet it is BMW Oracle that has helped to promote this situation, with its court challenge to holders Alinghi over what many found an autocratic protocol released at the end of the last Cup regatta; which many said demonstrated an unacceptable degree of control by the holder over the event. That began a tortuous legal process in 2007, destined to come to an end only by late March or early April. Read full article...