x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Hopes that America's Cup makes it to Gulf

Jimmy Spithill is all for leading Oracle into battle off the UAE coast to make up for not having it last February.

The Emirates New Zealand sailing team prepare for the Louis Vuitton Classic.
The Emirates New Zealand sailing team prepare for the Louis Vuitton Classic.

As the Stars and Stripes fluttered proudly from the stern of BMW Oracle Racing at the concluding Louis Vuitton Trophy regatta off the shores of Dubai, James (Jimmy) Spithill lamented the fact that he was unable to fly the flag even more prominently in UAE waters last February.

Spithill, the skipper of the Oracle team who captured the America's Cup from Alinghi, the holders, in Valencia in February, was remorseful that an initial plan to bring sailing's blue riband event to the Emirates was blown out of the water by incessant court room squabbles.

"Both sailing teams in the last series just wanted to get on with it," said Spithill, looking back on the legal battle his United States consortium had with the Swiss-backed Alinghi camp.

"But you have a set of rules to follow and we abided by those rules. If you look at our track record in court, we have won all the time.

"We wanted to get out on the water but only under a fair set of rules."

Larry Ellison's court room victories for Oracle over Ernesto Bertarelli, his multi-billionaire counterpart at Alinghi, meant that Ras Al Khaimah was denied the chance to stage the oldest event in international sport.

Spithill was sympathetic regarding that loss and expressed a desire to bring his team's next America's Cup vessel - a revolutionary new catamaran - to the waters of the Gulf as part of a proposed world tour in advance of Oracle's defence of the trophy.

The Australian explained: "The next cup campaign will be much more like a travelling road show. The boats will be on the road a lot. There will be a kind of world series at some of the best venues the sport has to offer.

"There is no reason why the UAE can't be part of that. There will have to be discussions before that happens but I know that I and other sailors would love to come here.

"Towards the end of the European summer you are looking for some different places to sail and obviously, from a climate point of view, the UAE comes into that category.

"It's a classic venue with good weather at times of the year when the weather is not so favourable elsewhere in the world. I think it will be perfect as one of the premier regatta venues.

"There is a great chance that the whole show could come here some time in the next two years. That would be pretty exciting for all the teams and extremely exciting for the UAE."

That plan for a global circus in advance of Oracle's defence of the trophy in 2013 is part of a project by Ellison's camp to bring the competition more into public focus.

Spithill said: "Until now, the teams contesting the finals have set up a base and trained there. That's all about to change. We want to introduce pre-cup races against the challenging teams."

The Oracle captain recognised that the technological secrets that are an integral part of cup projects would be exposed to rival camps, but was unconcerned.

"It works both ways in terms of what you are giving away," he said. "The challengers are going to see us but we will see them as well.

"At the end of the day, you are racing and that is much better than spending all your preparation time at your training base.

"Having the teams racing makes it all so much more viable for all their sponsors because there will be so many commercial opportunities for them to keep their teams in business.

"The America's Cup is changing in a big way and it is changing for the better," Spithill maintained.

"We promised before the last finals that, if we won, we would change the way the challenger series is run and not try to control every aspect of the competition's protocol.

"I think we've delivered on that pledge."

Most of the victorious America's Cup team are sailing off the Dubai coast, a couple of them on rival boats, and that team is likely to remain fairly constant for the cup defence.

Nevertheless, there have been a couple of significant additions. Murray Jones, a key member of the Alinghi team until the cup was lost, has been recruited as mainsail traveller and strategist, while Piet van Nieuwenhuyzen, another member of Bertarelli's camp, has taken over the role as bowman on Oracle.

Jones, the experienced New Zealander, is a close friend of his fellow Kiwi Russell Coutts, who masterminded the successful Oracle challenge in February.

Jones said: "It became apparent that Ernesto was not going to continue in the competition so I started to consider my options. Then I got a call from Russell.

"I had a look at what he was offering and I thought it was a good option, and here I am," Jones added.

His expertise will also be utilised on the design side.

"I'm looking forward to that," he said. "That is going to be quite a big role considering it will be a new boat and a new class. There is a lot of work to do that is going to impact on the overall result."

He is hoping that all the time and effort pays off. "It was disappointing to lose last time because of all the hard work we put in," he said.

"We could only do what the Alighi team was capable of and we gave it our best shot but, unfortunately, it was not quite enough.

"Let's hope for a better result next time."

 

wjohnson@thenational.ae