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Letter from America- Dyer Jones - AmCup Director

by Roger Vaughan on 20 Oct 2008
Dyer Jones, Regatta Director, with Michel Bonnefous, CEO of the Organisation of the 32nd America’s Cup and Michel Hodara, COO of the Organisation of the 32nd America’s Cup. ACM 2007/Carlo Borlenghi

Roger Vaughan, internationally published writer for print and television, talks to Dyer Jones exclusively for Alinghi.com

At mid-day in the middle of the first week in October, The New York Yacht Club’s Harbour Court Station in Newport, Rhode Island, was quiet as a church. The interior of the large, stately stone mansion, built as a summer home for John Nicholas Brown in the 1930s, has a dark, Victorian feel to it. Heavy draperies, oriental rugs, elegant marine paintings in thick gold frames, dimly lit half-models, and glass-faced antique cases of old books complete the grand, period ambience. Seated inside the front entrance, former Commodore Dyer Jones, dressed in khakis and a fleece vest, was reading the newspaper, waiting for a guest.

Jones, probably the most experienced America’s Cup administrator in the U.S., is a tall, agreeable man who makes easy conversation. A lifelong sailor, he shares his first name with the ubiquitous Dyer Dinghy, produced by the boat yard his grandfather, William Dyer, started in 1927. [To date, Dyer Boats has built 23,000 small vessels.] In 1958, his grandfather brought Dyer to Newport to see the 12-meters, the class selected to resume racing for the America’s Cup after a 21-year hiatus. 'I caught the fever then,' Dyer says.

Jones cut his sailing teeth at Newport’s Ida Lewis Yacht Club, and began volunteering for low-end race committee jobs in his spare time. His hands-wet approach moved him quickly along the race committee ladder. He accepted the New York YC’s invitation to become an auxiliary race committee member in 1974. Eight years later, he became Chairman of the New York YC Race Committee. In 1983 he presided over 90 days of trial racing and the first-ever defeat of the United States in a Cup match. 'In all my years of involvement, Australia’s win of the seventh race in 1983 was the most memorable,' he says '….until the last race of 2007 came along!'

In 1984, Jones began an ascent of the NYYC flag officer ladder, becoming commodore in 1991. Along the way he was NYYC representative – and rules advisor – to the Challenger of Record (America II) in Fremantle in 1986-7.

In 1988, the first 'hip pocket' protocol was written by San Diego to prevent further rogue challenges such as the one by Michael Fay in 1987 that produced a protracted legal battle resulting in the Catamaran Cup mismatch. [With the new protocol written, the next, pre-arranged challenger of record delivers the challenge from his hip pocket as the final race of a Cup match ends.] That year, Jones served on the three-man arbitration panel to decide protocol disagreements that might arise. He ran the America’s Cup Challenger Association for New York in 1995, and was eventual head of the challenger association for the 2003 defense in New Zealand. When Alinghi won that match, Jones was asked to be regatta director (as a consultant) for 2007.

'One of the good things about the 2007 protocol,' Jones says, 'is it combined the challenger and defender organizing authorities, including measuring. And I give America’s Cup Management lots of credit. ACM was huge, 240 people. The scope of their responsibility was awesome. They even had to coordinate building the stadium. It was 8 kilometers from the tip of the north breakwater around the top of the harbor where the syndicate bases were, to the tip of the south breakwater. The place comfortably absorbed 50,000 people. And the logistics of moving the Acts around was enormous. All the race management and spectator control boats were also moved, 70 of them all told. We had two containers of gear and spare parts, including engines. The 600-boat marina in Valencia was bigger than anything we had seen – an enormous infrastructure commitment. Did ACM make mistakes? Absolutely. But overall they did a hell of a job.'

Having come so far and accomplished so much by 2007, including a truly memorable Cup match featuring a one-second final race win for Alinghi, how did the Cup end up in court again?

'Alinghi gets great credit for winning on its first try,' Jones says. 'But that’s a pitfall. The Swiss don’t have any history in the event. You have to lose to learn: suffer some hard knocks, try your hardest and fail. The people negotiating the protocol had no experience in the event, even as observers. The new protocol would have been created under a corporate management structure. Some of the executives were not sailors. They’d ‘been sailing,’ but as we know, there’s a difference.

'Part of the legal standoff we’re in has a cultural base. I find it difficult to imagine the Spanish Challenger of Record had a comprehensive dialogue with Alinghi. The Spanish syndicate had never been through it before.

'And part of it began earlier, in 2004, when Mr. Coutts and Mr. Bertarelli had a falling out. Russell wanted to have greater management responsibilities for both the sailing team and event management. He didn’t get it. Maybe that was a misunderstanding. But it generated bad blood.'

Jones agrees it has long been the nature of Cup victors, whose double burden is not only to defend the Cup, but host it, to tilt the playing field to their advantage. 'The New York Yacht Club did that for years,' Jones says. 'San Diego did it – they tried to require that computer programs used by teams be of national origin. How ridiculous was that?' But he says Alinghi's initial tilt was extreme. 'That’s why the challengers needed to get together with Alinghi soon after the new protocol was announced and thrash it out. With their joint work, by November the amended protocol was probably much more acceptable for the challengers.'

Jones feels the protracted law suit is terrible for the Cup. 'I do understand the principles being defended by both sides,' he says, 'but it is doing huge damage to the Cup community, the clubs, and the event. I do know the America’s Cup will survive anything good or bad I’ve ever done, anything good or bad you’ve ever written, or anything these guys do. The Cup is bigger than all that. This competition will survive.'

Jones is convinced the Deed of Gift should be modified to bring it into the present, give it broader appeal for more nations. How? By creating an independent organizational authority. 'As I’ve said, the 2007 ACM did a great job, but no matter how hard they tried, ACM would always be perceived as a sub-division of Alinghi. An independent authority would not be tied to any competitor, but it would have to serve at the pleasure of the trustee [holder of the Cup]. The mission would be negotiated between defender and challenger, then left to the authority to manage.'

Dyer Jones looked at his watch and begged his leave. He had to go help haul the Shields he would be racing in the upcoming national championships on Chesapeake Bay. 'I believe good officials should remain competitive,' he said with a smile. 'You don’t understand this game sitting behind a desk.'
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