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America's Cup- Blake aide hits back over Team NZ conduct comments

by Sail-World on 22 Jun 2013
RNZYS Commodore Peter Kingston looks on as Russell Coutts and Dean Barker celebrate with the America’s Cup after the 2000 defence. Event Media

On June 16, Golden Gate Yacht Club Vice-Commodore, Tom Ehman, commented on a story that had appeared in the San Jose Mercury News.

His attack on Emirates Team New Zealand, and the way they had conducted themselves on various campaigns, prompted a response from one of his long-time adversaries, Alan Sefton, former Executive Director of Team New Zealand, a very close friend of Sir Peter Blake, and co-founder of the original Team New Zealand.

Below we feature Tom Ehman's original comments on his Facebook page, of the current approach being followed by Emirates Team New Zealand, and a link to the story which he is referencing.

Then read Alan Sefton's reply (slightly edited), which sets out his view of the history, going back to 1987 and earlier.

By way of introduction, Tom Ehman has been involved with the America's Cup since 1977 when he was Director of US Yacht Racing Union, before being Jury Secretary for the 1980 America's Cup. This is his 11th America's Cup having been involved in various capacities in rule, team management, and regatta direction, always with US based teams. As Vice Commodore of the Golden Gate Yacht Club, he is a Flag Office of the current Cup Trustee, and Defender of the America's Cup. GGYC is responsible for the organisation of the 34th America's Cup Regatta.

Tom Ehman:

Headline ('Team New Zealand boss taunts Artemis as gentleman's sport rejects gentility' -- link below) says it all. In 33+ years in the AC, I have never seen someone degrade and taunt another team like ETNZ is now trying to do to Artemis, let alone a team that has just had a tragic loss, is pulling themselves together, and is trying heroically to climb back up the LVC and AC mountain.

The irony is that it was ETNZ trying to change the LVC schedule to suit their own purposes, not Artemis. Artemis just wanted the schedule left as it was long-ago set by Regatta Director Iain Murray and agreed by all the Challengers.

It's also ironic, given all the bitching and moaning that ETNZ are doing about the AC72, that: (a) it was ETNZ that all along has vetoed any changes to the class rule for safety reasons because they believed they already had a competitive advantage under the existing rule, and (b) it was Pete Melvin (Melvin & Morelli) who was hired back in 2010 to draft the new AC72 class rule, and now Pete is the senior member of, you guessed it, the ETNZ design team.

One other point -- in all the Cups that NZ teams mounted famously aggressive and tauntingly negative PR campaigns against their opponents (1987, 1988, 1992, 2003) they flunked out of the Cup.

In the years Team NZ took the PR high road (1995 and 2000), never attacking their opponents verbally, and focusing all their energy to winning on the water, they won the Cup. Notably, in 1995 and 2000 they were led by the late, great Sir Peter Blake and Sir Russell Coutts, the only two Kiwis knighted for service to yachting.

As Defender, I guess we should be happy to see Team New Zealand distracting themselves by taking, once again, the PR low road. But as Trustee it is disappointing to say the least, and too bad for Artemis, the event, and the others getting trashed in the process by New Zealand's breathtakingly negative PR campaign.

The original story from the San Jose Mercury News can be read by http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-news/ci_23466191/americas-cup-team-new-zealand-boss-taunts-artemis!clicking_here

Alan Sefton responds to the Mercury News, in a letter copied to other international media

Mr Ehman’s most recent offerings, on Facebook and referred to on 15 June in the Mercury News, can only he regarded as an emotional but wrong-headed diatribe against the Kiwis. They are, however, so riddled with misrepresentation and error that they demand a response from someone that, so to speak, was there.

Like Mr Ehman, I too have been involved in the Cup for a long time (since 1984). I helped launch New Zealand’s first Cup challenge and was an advisor to Sir Michael Fay for his 1987, 1988 and 1992 campaigns. I was then the late Sir Peter Blake’s partner in founding Team New Zealand, and was executive director of that organization when we won the Cup in 1995 and successfully defended it in 2000.

I first encountered Mr Ehman at the New York Yacht Club in 1988, in the early days of the legal dispute that resulted from San Diego’s unfortunate refusal to respect the legitimacy and merit Michael Fay’s Big Boat challenge. He seemed an able and even likeable-enough fellow at the time. But I witnessed, at close quarters, his struggle with the rights and wrongs of that dispute.

Followers of the America’s Cup, particularly some of those in the San Francisco sailing community, may recall November 1987, when Mr Ehman was chief operating officer of Malin Burnham’s infamous Sail America Foundation. He told the Tuesday Yachtsmen's Luncheon of the St. Francis Yacht Club that, if San Diego lost (The Big Boat case) in Court, Sail America would do whatever was necessary to make sure that Michael Fay had no chance of winning on the water - even if there was nothing fair or sportsmanlike about how they did it. The audience was taken completely aback.

Three days later, the November 20, 1987 edition of the San Diego Union quoted Mr Ehman as saying: 'We'll jimmy the rules to win this thing…We have our best minds, people like John Marshall, figuring out how to deal with the Kiwis instead of designing yachts.' (S-W: Tom Ehman has always strenuously denied making the comment.)

I am a bystander to current events but still follow everything closely and, from this distance, Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton has rightly been dismayed by the deck being repeatedly restacked against him, most lately in the guise of safety measures. Understandably, he has been fighting his corner and this has triggered another of Mr Ehman’s favourite responses – bullying through the media.

Regardless of the circumstances – and few will feel more deeply about Andrew Simpson’s tragic death than career round-the-world racer Dalton – it is a basic in sport that you have to be on the pitch, or on the start line, or touching gloves in the ring etc, when the game, race or match is scheduled to start. If you are not, for whatever reason, you lose. Your competitors aren’t asked to cool their heels and fill in time until you are ready.

One of the late Sir Peter Blake’s favourite sayings was: 'If you don’t finish, you can’t win' and, in the all-conquering 1995 Team New Zealand campaign, got rid of titanium fittings on NZL32 and NZL38 because, without any warning, he’d had a titanium chain plate fail on the super-successful Steinlager 2 in the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World race.

As an extension to the Blake approach, and accepting the benefits of two-boat testing, one of the most compelling reasons to build a second boat in an America’s Cup campaign, and always having it ready to go, is to provide cover for the loss of your first yacht – as per oneAustralia in 1995.

It appears to me that Mr Cayard can’t tick any of those boxes and the Artemis buck stops with him. So, like it or not, he should accept the consequences and withdraw with honour rather than make a mockery of the so-called challenger eliminations.

Of course, the defender Oracle and, as an extension of them, the vice-commodore of the defending club, Mr Ehman, can’t allow that to happen otherwise they will be sitting across the negotiating table from Team NZ and Luna Rossa minus the control they had when they stymied the proposal to start the challenger series at a later date.

Finally, let me comment on Mr Ehman’s throw-away line about New Zealand teams mounting 'famously aggressive and tauntingly negative PR campaigns against their opponents'.

In 1987, in Fremantle, the New Zealand Challenge was focused entirely on the business at hand in its first Cup challenge – winning races – and doing rather well at it. Then Dennis Conner called the Kiwis cheats because they’d been smart enough to win approval to build their boats in fiberglass.

Who will ever forget the late Tom Blackaller’s quip 'Oops, Dennis, I wouldn’t have said that'. Despite continuing Sail America provocation, clearly intended to knock the new boys off their stride, the Michael Fay syndicate chose only to defend its integrity in the face of baseless accusations.

In 1988, the Mercury Bay Boating Club may have surprised San Diego Yacht Club with its Deed of Gift challenge in a 90ft waterline sloop, but the then SDYC commodore Fred Frye initially praised that challenge as 'innovative' and 'resourceful'.

It was only when Malin Burnham, Tom Ehman and Sail America got hold of it, that 'innovative' and 'resourceful' quickly became 'sneak attack' while, without anyone knowing, Sail America snuck off to the Supreme Court in New York on an unsuccessful mission to change the Deed of Gift in favour of the Defender.

Mr Ehman chooses to overlook that the then plain Michael Fay only resorted to a Deed of Gift challenge because he got fed up waiting for SDYC to announce the where, when and in what details for its defence of the Cup after Stars & Stripes’ victory in Fremantle. And that the door for Mr Fay’s perfectly legitimate challenge was left open because Sail America was so busy around the world trying to sell off to the highest bidder the venue rights to that defence.

No, Mr Ehman, New Zealand didn’t start that one either and it wasn’t New Zealand that so readily resorted to 'famously aggressive and tauntingly negative PR campaigns'.

With the benefit of hind sight, Mr Ehman just might have point about New Zealand being aggressive in the 1992 Cup in San Diego, but that aggression was confined to the water and the employment of a bowsprit on a lightweight, dinghy-style IACC yacht. It was New Zealand’s own fault that it got caught between two official interpretations on how it could or should use that bowsprit, and chose the one that suited its own agenda (although one could argue that there should have been no such conflict between juries at the world’s premier sailing event).

New Zealand paid the price for its decisions and lost the challenger final, to the Paul Cayard-skippered Il Moro de Venezia. But it was Mr Cayard and his boss Raul Gardini who sank to the PR nastiness to which Mr Ehman alludes, with Gardini accusing New Zealand of sailing the regatta 'in an unsportsmanlike fashion'. Facing a Rule 75 – the Fair Sailing Rule – protest by New Zealand, Gardini later had to apologize for his unfortunate remarks but, by then, it was too late for the New Zealand campaign.

Team New Zealand didn’t, as Mr Ehman puts it, 'flunk out' the 2003 Cup because it took what he describes as the PR low road, or any PR road for that matter. It failed somewhat ignominiously because it under-engineered its boats. The PR low road that Mr Ehman alludes to in this case was a misguided PR 'loyal' campaign, organised by a group of sports followers who took exception to the defections of leading Team New Zealand sailors, particularly to Switzerland. Team New Zealand itself had nothing to do with that campaign.

Mr Ehman then chooses to ignore the 2007 match in Valencia when, for the record, Team New Zealand again won the right to challenge in the America’s Cup match but lost to Ernesto Bertarelli’s Alinghi with nary a PR agenda, high or low, or Mr Ehman for that matter, in sight.

And, for the record, Mr Ehman is astray in his assertion that Sir Peter and Sir Russell (Coutts) are the only two Kiwis to be knighted for services to yachting. Both Sir Tom Clark (in 1986) and Sir Michael Fay (in 1990) preceded them.

As the vice-commodore of the Trustee yacht club, Golden Gate, it is incumbent on Mr Ehman to uphold the integrity and dignity of the event and to ensure that the proceedings are fair to all, challengers included. He should pay more attention to those duties and, stifle his natural instincts.

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