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America's Cup - Why is anyone surprised at charges of cheating?

by Barry Pickthall on 7 Sep 2013
1983 America’s Cup: Tank test model of the wing keeled Australian 12 Metre yacht ’Australia 2’ designed by Ben Lexcen, at the Dutch tank test facility. PPL Media © http://www.pplmedia.com

Why is anyone ‘surprised’ at charges of cheating in the current round of the America's Cup?

In its 162 year history, the America's Cup is packed with deceit, gamesmanship and vast sums of money poured into winning this bottomless ewer at any cost.

You have only to read Bob Fisher’s definitive two-volume history ‘An Absorbing Interest’ to learn how this trophy has driven men on both sides of the world with otherwise unimpeachable records to go well beyond the bounds of sportsmanship in their efforts to win or defend this infamous Garrard fashioned ewer.

Bob, who has devoted the past four decades to writing about and researching the Cup says that the reasons why ultra-rich industrialists and traders have been prepared to throw Millions at a 58oz silver cup worth a fraction of each man’s investment, remain as varied as their origins.

In 1893, the Earl of Dunraven was outdone by what he considered to be the deliberate actions of the defenders. A man, whose inherited wealth from landowning provided him with the opportunities to indulge his catholic tastes, was a figure of considerable erudition. Having studied Naval Architecture under Dixon Kemp, the leader on his side of the Atlantic in the late 19th century, Dunraven had the understanding to be certain of his facts when he accused the American crew of Vigilant of altering their boat after measurement, to make it faster. The US crew took on extra water in the bilge to increase waterline length – a lot more than the paltry 5lb of weight Oracle Team USA's boys have been found guilty of adding to their AC45 catamarans! It caused the New York Yacht Club to hold an enquiry... which took the form of a kangaroo trial against Dunraven in order to exonerate its actions.

The aeronautical pioneer and aircraft manufacturer, Sir Thomas Sopwith, and his three challenges in 1899, 1903 and 1920 were undoubtedly of a sporting nature matched by that of his opponent, Harold Vanderbilt, a scion of the railroad building and operating family. Both men engaged the latest technology to challenge and defend this sporting trophy, yet there were undercurrents of less-than-proper behaviour by the defending yacht club in failing to hear a protest by the British skipper.

It was Bond, later disgraced over business corruption, who encouraged the promotion of technology within his syndicate. It proved to be the way to go, even if it was outside the literal terms of the Deed of Gift, and led to the most acrimonious America’s Cup summer in 1983. This victory, which ended the longest sporting run in history in 1983, simply stirred others to seek the same glory

Subsequent economic improvements world wide have seen mega-changes in the structure of America’s Cup racing, albeit still within the restrictions of the Deed of Gift. It was this legal instrument that Sir Michael Fay used in 1988 in order to end a conspiratorial effort by members of the San Diego Yacht Club to manipulate the America’s Cup for their own benefit. The Court cases raged on long after the match had ended.

In 2003 Swiss multi billionaire, Ernesto Bertarelli, bought his way to success by hiring the sailing and design teams that had contributed to New Zealand’s success to win the Cup for his landlocked yacht club in Geneva. Despite having passion for sailing, his efforts were motivated by a desire to profit commercially. When he took the Cup to Europe, he began with a bidding war for the venue that resulted in one of the nastiest of business negotiations.

After changing much of the structure of the Cup racing for the 30th edition in 2007, Bertarelli then attempted to extend his control further for the 31st edition by promoting an unqualified yacht club to run the challenger trials. Friendly hip pocket challenges were nothing new, but this attempt by Bertarelli to control both challenger and defender trials, led to considerable legal activity in the New York Courts. His defeat in the Court at the hands of one of America’s richest men, Oracle head, Larry Ellison, led to an equally bitter challenge in multihulls, and to the Cup residing in San Francisco for this year’s match with a class of 72ft catamarans – a long way from the schooners that raced in 1851 but just as testing both in terms of technology and sportsmanship.

The America’s Cup, so full of connivance and intrigue, makes Bob Fisher’s Bible such a good read. Only 150 copies remain of these numbered limited edition tomes, signed by the author. Once they have gone, there will be no more. They will be as rare and valued as Lawson’s History of the America’s Cup penned over a Century ago.

To sample some chapters and order your copy, visit www.southatlanticpublishing.com



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