High seas entrapment
The trap is set
What Bertarelli hoped to avoid in 2004 happened three years later when in 2007 off the back of another defeat Ellison recruited Russell Coutts for the 33rd America’s Cup. A few days after a second Swiss America’s Cup victory, BMW Oracle Racing who didn’t make it past the quarterfinals, was already plotting the downfall of the Swiss champions. Step one was to put Coutts at the head of the team with a rumoured $55 million bonus for a win.
Step two was to design and build a boat so revolutionary that it would leave the Swiss at a standstill; this process was conducted in complete secrecy in California. Ellison knew that Bertarelli in his rush to transform the America’s Cup was going to make a mistake and the self-made US billionaire was not going to miss it. The trap was set and the Americans were poised to strike.
Encouraged by the success of the new and improved 32nd America’s Cup, Bertarelli wanted to modernise it further. The Swiss team chose the Spanish to be Challenger of Record (partner in shaping the event. BMW Oracle Racing had been Challenger of Record for the 32nd edition) and the Royal Spanish Sailing Federation set up a new yacht club based in Valencia. The two wrote the Protocol for the 33rd America’s Cup. “There was a bit of an uproar among the other teams,” said Michel Hodara, managing director of America’s Cup Management, the entity set up by Bertarelli to manage the 32nd edition. “But to have your way, you have to win it. That’s the tradition of the America’s Cup and that is how it is,” he added.
The trap was closing. “Ellison saw the opportunity for a legal challenge and didn’t hesitate for a second.” The Americans dragged Alinghi before the New York Supreme Court that has jurisdiction over the Deed of Gift that governs the America’s Cup and won the first round in November 2007. “Ellison acted like he was defending the interests of the other teams and the event, when in fact it was a massive charade, a hold up!” said Xavier de Lesquin, China Team manager, in 2007. “The 33rd will be the simplest event of all: two teams, three races and the first to two wins. A scandal.”