x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Simmer's grand designs

The man behind Alinghi tells William Johnson that legal wranglings have allowed him to build a 'really cool' boat.

Australian Grant Simmer, pictured here at Alinghi's team base at the America's Cup harbour in Valencia, is chief designer for the Swiss team and the brains behind Alinghi V, which will race in Ras al Khaimah.
Australian Grant Simmer, pictured here at Alinghi's team base at the America's Cup harbour in Valencia, is chief designer for the Swiss team and the brains behind Alinghi V, which will race in Ras al Khaimah.

The legal arguments surrounding the America's Cup have pleased few people at Alinghi, the winner of the 32nd staging of the competition, but it has worked to the benefit of their designer Grant Simmer. Simmer, an Australian steeped in sailing history, had been assigned to design the fifth version of the Swiss yacht Alinghi which captured the famous Cup in Auckland in 2003, made a successful defence in Valencia two years ago and is seeking to complete the hat-trick in Ras al Khaimah in February.

He had set his stall out to build a traditional single-hull vessel to meet the challenges of a cluster of would-be opponents, but the dispute in the law courts has meant that now only the American boat BMW Oracle Racing stands between them and a second defence. He has spent the past few weeks watching the boat go through testing in Italy ahead of its move to the UAE which begins next week. Alinghi V measures 90ft square and has an enormous mast of 56m.

"We could have done without all the arguing over the rules but the upshot of it all is that I have been able to build this really cool boat," he said. Legal wranglings have dogged the prestigious sailing event for the past two years. Disputes between the teams have focused on the agreement of the protocol for the 33rd running of the race, and the upholding of the 158 year old event's Deed of Gift, a 19th century document that governs the rules of the race.

Having successfully defended the America's Cup in 2007, Alinghi's backing yacht club, the Societe Nautique de Geneve announced an agreement with Club Nautico Espanol de Vela of Spain for the Spanish club to oversee the rules of the competition. Challengers, BMW Oracle Racing, backed by Golden Gate Yacht Club objected to Club Nautico Espanol de Vela's role in the protocol for the next America's Cup race, arguing the club was not a valid Challenger of Records and did not comply with the event's age-old governing rules. Legal disputes between the teams have raged since the initial 2007 argument, with the designs of the boats for the 2010 Cup event also causing controversy.

"Originally we wanted a more conventional America's Cup competition with a bunch of other challengers, but we were defeated in court and that's why we have this situation where we are just racing against the Oracle team. "Under the Deed of Gift [the America's Cup charter which stipulates rules and regulations in the event of competing teams failing to reach mutual agreement] the challenger specifies the dimensions of the boat and we then build one to match it.

"That's why we ended up building this multi-hull rather than a monohull which has been really exciting for all of us in the design team." It took 15 months to get Alinghi V ready for an emotional launch day on home territory of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The job would have been finished sooner, but for work stopping and starting in tandem with every court action. Simmer, who was in command of a group of 14 designers, believes he has created a vessel capable of giving him another triumph in the blue riband event of his sport which he first sampled in 1983.

"The first of the three races will be over 40 miles, 20 miles upwind and 20 miles downwind; the second will be a triangular race of three legs of 13 miles each. If there is a need for a deciding race, it will be over the same course and distance as the first race," he said. "With the course being longer than normal you have to build a boat with both speed and efficiency in mind. It's no use trying to produce the fastest boat that has ever sailed if you can't control it properly.

"But because there are so few rules this time around, it has provided tremendous scope for design opportunities and I reckon we have taken full advantage of that. "Our boat is impressive but so is theirs, so its hard to say who is going to win. Our hearts will be in our mouths when we get to the starting line for the first of the three races. Let's just hope we get there. "I think the sailors in their team, like ours, are ready to go out there and race, but their lawyers are not. The continuing desire to go to court is spoiling it for everybody.

"All this legal stuff is extremely bad for the sport and harmful for the image of the America's Cup. The American team didn't want to play against all the challengers and now they have entered into a game where they have to play to our rules. And they don't like it. Hopefully, one day the courts will tell them to get on with the racing which is what we all want." Simmer, 52, enjoyed the most remarkable of America's Cup baptisms. He was a key member of the Australia II team who created sailing history in 1983 by wresting the famous trophy away from the New York Yacht Club where it had resided for 132 years.

"It seems so long ago. I was so young that I found it hard to appreciate the significance of it all. "But it was a massive moment in sailing history and naturally I am really proud to have been part of it." That was the first of eight America's Cups Simmer has been involved with. The last three of them have been with Alinghi and he has loved every minute of the nine-year adventure. "Winning the America's Cup with Alinghi was a fantastic achievement for everybody in the team, especially considering all the challengers we had to beat along the way," he said.

"This time it is completely different with just one challenger and a long-standing set of rules to adhere to. Those rules lay down the length of the course and stipulate that the cup will be won over a series of three races." wjohnson@thenational.ae