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Battling billionaires rock the America's Cup boat

by Alistair Osborne/The Sunday Telegraph on 11 Feb 2008
America’s Cup ©ACM 2007/Photo: Vicent Bosch
Alistair Osborne in The Sunday Telegraph reports on the spat that has left the venerable America's Cup shipwrecked. At the centre of the squall between these two crashing egos is a 120-year-old document, running to just two pages.

Maybe Howard Hughes would understand. 'I'm not a paranoid deranged millionaire,' the late recluse once declared. 'Goddamit, I'm a billionaire.'

Judge Herman Cahn of the New York Supreme Court might recognise that. Any day now, he will give his verdict on a spiteful duel between two of the world's richest men that has marooned yachting's greatest prize, the America's Cup, in a legal spat of nit-picking complexity.

At the centre of the squall between these two crashing egos is a 120-year-old document, running to just two pages. It is the Deed of Gift, which governs the oldest trophy in international sport. In the hands of the two bilious billionaires, the case has become a pedant's, and lawyer's charter, degenerating into a row over what constitutes a 'keel yacht' and the definition of simple words, like 'weekday'.

Billionaire number one is the winner of the 31st and 32nd races: Ernesto Bertarelli, whose father built the Swiss-based Serono biotech company, which was sold to pharmaceutical giant Merck in 2006 for $13.3bn (£6.8bn). Last year Forbes magazine ranked Serono-heir Bertarelli the world's 76th richest man, worth $8.8bn.

Billionaire number two is Larry Ellison, the brash software supremo still at the helm of Oracle Systems, the American IT outfit he co-founded 30 years ago. Fortune ranked him number 11, worth $21.5bn. Not that Ellison would care. 'Money is just a method of keeping score now,' he said recently.

Just participating in the America's Cup can cost a team between £40m and £80m. But, as a boatload of billionaires have found to their cost, it is one prize money cannot buy. Bertarelli hinted at as much after he won the last renewal: 'It's been a real lesson in life; one of the hardest things I've ever done, and today, besides the birth of my kids, is probably the best day of my life.'

Perhaps that feeling explains the extraordinary goings-on since Bertarelli's Swiss Alinghi team scooped the 'Auld Mug' in Valencia last summer.

Many believe Judge Cahn will force the warring billionaires to settle their differences on the water this autumn.

While he ruminates on his decision, the judge might also reflect how times have changed since British tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton sunk much of his fortune and three decades of his life into five failed challenges for the cup, spanning 1899 to 1930. When, at the age of 80, Lipton finally gave up, New York mayor Jimmy Walker presented him with a silver cup, recognising him as 'the world's best loser'.

That's a status Bertarelli and Ellison would find nauseating. Happily, one of them must lose.

Full article at The Sunday Telegraph click here
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