Sunday, August 2, 2009

Butterworth fires back...

Source (Photo credit: Carlo Borlenghi/Alinghi)
Response to Tom Ehman in Valencia Sailing - letter from Brad Butterworth

“Tom Ehman’s interview in Valencia Sailing deserves an appropriate response:

In almost 140 years of America’s Cup competition, innovation is often accompanied by whines of “illegality” or “unfair” from the other camp. Alinghi however, cannot take any innovation credit in using powered systems, and Tom Ehman’s predictable whines are again wide of the mark. Onboard powered systems have been with the top end of the sport for more than a dozen years. Just take a closer look at the yachts competing in blue ribbon events such as the Sydney-Hobart, Newport to Bermuda, Volvo Ocean Race, Transpac as well as some World Championships such as the Maxi Worlds. Are they all cheats too, Tom?

If the new self-appointed purists of the sport are upset at the use of onboard powered systems, they need to take it up with the innovators of the game, but they have not only missed the boat, they have been missing it for years.

Can anyone fairly criticise Alinghi for using the best technology in what is an open design competition? Anyone reading the Mercury Bay judgements can read in simple black and white terms that there are no design rules except the broad dimensions specified in the Deed, and within these the challenger is free to commit to the dimensions of their yacht when making its challenge and the defender is free to respond. You can be sure the BMW Oracle designers are not thrilled to hear someone on their side might have put them wrong on the rules.

Now Tom Ehman is trying to sell us Mercury Bay and the 27th Match in 1988 as some kind of Californian “love-in”. That will come as a big surprise to those who lead and bankrolled the Mercury Bay Challenge and the three years of litigation it involved. Eight court hearings up and down the New York court system was just a bit of fun? No, mutual consent was as short on the ground then as it is now. The litigation might have been fun for Tom back in 1988 just as it seems to be to him now, but no one else is smiling Tom. The business of the Cup is in ruins but the Deed must prevail. Make no mistake; the Mercury Bay Boating Club contested the rules of the 27th Match produced by Tom Ehman right up to the very end. The measure of a man is how he takes his own medicine.

Next Tom Ehman wants to litigate the venue selection. He has flipped-flopped on this as well. He publicly announced last year after the Court’s order was made, that the Defender could choose a venue anywhere it wished, in either hemisphere. Only two months ago in May they issued press statements critical of Alinghi for what they said was defying the Court’s order in respect of the dates of the Match, which conflicted with the terms of the Deed of Gift. Now Ehman wants Alinghi to ignore the same Court order (and the Court’s subsequent directions), and follow the Deed in selecting the venue. How does he lie in bed straight?

Ehman is signaling he wants to start yet another round of litigation, this time over construction in country. Ehman’s no holds barred Cup philosophy hasn’t changed much since 1991 when he ran the Cup Organisation into near bankruptcy needing a massive bailout when he said:

“The challengers will do everything they can do to try to weaken us financially and operationally," said ACOC General Manager Tom Ehman. ”It is part of the battle, unfortunately, that carries over from the water onto the land. It's a little bit unfair."

Regrettably, the years don’t seem to have brought any maturity and wisdom.

Alinghi 5 has been constructed in Switzerland as required by the Deed and is now sailing in Switzerland. Despite Ehman’s rhetoric painting their challenge as an American product, it is hardly the “All American” challenge he would have us believe. Tom is careful not mention the overwhelming presence of Kiwis, Australians, Canadians, Irish, Brits, Dutch, French, Italians” - and that’s just the sailors, and it is not much different in other parts of the team including those who constructed their boat.

It is all but forgotten that it was another Californian yacht club that had the dubious distinction of being the very first to commence litigation over the Cup competition when the San Diego Yacht Club sought an injunction against the Royal Perth Yacht Club in 1985 (NYSC Index Number 22320/85) before the 26th America’s Cup in Fremantle over the rules of the regatta. That may have been 24 years ago, but some things just don’t change.

Ehman has signaled BMW Oracle will be desperately continuing to throw the dice in court for a while longer, and blaming the other side for their actions. The rest of the sport is thoroughly bored with their legal antics and increasingly ludicrous PR spin, and just wants us to get on with a race on the water.

Is anyone willing to bet they will not litigate again if they lose in February? I mean losing is just so unfair, eh Tom.”

Brad Butterworth, Alinghi team skipper.