Newport’s loss of the America’s Cup final Match races behind them, state leaders and Cup officials went back to the drawing board Friday to try to hammer out a deal to bring pre-regatta races to the City by the Sea.
'Now it’s not a done deal, but I’d say … we’re probably 75 percent of the way there,' Thomas Ehman, head of Oracle Racing external affairs, said Friday at the State House with Governor Chafee at his side.
Ehman said he’s 'confident' the state can complete negotiations with America’s Cup officials in the next couple of weeks, when he hopes to reach a final agreement.
Ehman said he traveled to Rhode Island this week with 'two asks' for Rhode Island: Could the state be ready to host an America’s Cup World Series event this September and could the state be the Cup’s backup plan for the final Match races in 2013 if, for any reason, the deal with San Francisco falls apart?
'We don’t think there are any problems in San Francisco,' Ehman said. 'But if for any reason it falters … we need — as prudent sailors, businesspeople, event organizers — we need a backup plan and from what I’ve heard today from … the governor and on down, everyone has said, ‘Yes, we think we can figure out a way to help you if on the small chance that happens.’ '
The state’s not counting on such a fumble, but leaders are gearing up to become the site for pre-regatta races.
'I’m an America’s Cup fan,' Chafee said. 'I was on the race course in 1983 in the seventh race, I saw on that tragic downwind when Australia II finally passed Dennis Conner’s Liberty and the Cup left Newport. I think our chances of getting it back are slim — Tom’s been very honest — in 2013. But there are other opportunities, and that’s what we’ve been talking about.'
State leaders said the World Series races would be an economic boon to all of Rhode Island. House Speaker Gordon D. Fox said it’s appropriate to try to upgrade Fort Adams State Park as the venue because the money would be spent to improve a state asset.
No one could say how much it would cost to bring the September regatta here — partly because discussions with Ehman before Friday had centered on costs for hosting the final Match races.
'We don’t know it,' said Richard A. Licht, director of administration. 'We don’t know the specifics of what they need yet.'
America’s Cup officials are dreaming of a different kind of race to bring sailing to the masses, envisioning pre-regatta races as a way to build enthusiasm and momentum for the final Match, Ehman said.
They’ll call an annual series of four to six regattas, which will begin this summer in Europe and lead up to the final Match race, the America’s Cup World Series. At the end of each series, they’ll name a world champion, hoping to maintain momentum for the sport in between final Cup years.
Newport would be the first American location for the World Series, Ehman said.