So can the America's Cup still happen in 2010?

Another deadline’s been and gone leaving us none the wiser as to what happens next for the America’s Cup.

This will not come as much of a surprise to those who’ve followed the wrangling in the New York courts, where false dawns have risen time after time. Some even question whether the ruling on the most recent appeal will mark the end of a long and bitter dispute.

But for those who’ve read the revised Protocol for the 33rd America’s Cup, as published on 20 September by the SNG and CNEV, a lack of one specific piece of news this week will be particularly disappointing.

According to clause 11.1 in the Protocol, a new venue was to be announced ‘on or before the 28 February 2009, or such later date announced on 28 February 2009.’

But as the calendar flipped over into March no such date had been announced. Instead, the 18 challenging teams are said to have been notified that an announcement would be made soon. A press release issued after the fifth and latest competitor meeting said, ‘Negotiations are moving forward with the Spanish administrations and AC Management is confident of announcing a deal with Valencia in the near future.’

Hardly surprising perhaps, given the bigger issues currently at stake for which the appeal court ruling is expected later this month. But the delay must surely raise serious questions about whether the America’s Cup can even take place on the Alinghi/SNG timetable. At present and if the current Cup holders are successful in the courts, the event is planned for next year, in new AC33 boats. But when you start to mark out the calendar, time appears to be running out.

According to the Protocol the ‘Schedule’ that details the qualifying regattas will be announced, ’60 days after the announcement of the venue.’

Then, according to the document the ‘Challenger Selection’, will ‘not commence within 10 months from the announcement of the venue and the schedule.’

Naturally, the amount of time required for a Challenger series to take place would depend on the number of teams that do indeed turn up and while 18 are currently entered, it is common for some teams to fall by the wayside. And anyway, a large Challenger fleet would simply compound the problems, lengthening the Challenger trial period and placing big pressure on infrastructure etc.

Even with just a handful of teams one would have to assume that at least a month would be required to conduct this series. Then, with a short break between this and the Cup match itself, surely another 3-4 weeks would have to be added on. In total, say two months minimum for the whole deal.

This would equate to a total minimum period of 14 months from whenever the green light was illuminated, to when the Cup might be completed. If Alinghi and the SNG get the go ahead this April, that would mean June 2010. Possible perhaps, but a close call given that Valencia needs to start it’s build up for the annual Formula One event in 21-23 August. Setting up this show is no overnight exercise. One more month in the America’s Cup calendar could push the Cup perilously close to the petrol head fest.

Unfortunately the news doesn’t get much better for some of the big players. Take Ainslie’s predicament for example. Next year would be OK for the Cup, but 2011 would start to eat into his preparations for the 2012 Olympics leaving him with the unenviable dilemma of having to choose between realising his dream of skippering a British America’s Cup event and competing in the next Olympics on home soil. And he’s just one of many in the Cup circus who will feel the squeeze.

As time ticks by, the issues only seem to get more complicated.

And then there’s the issue of whether it would be compulsory to take part in the lead up regattas this year, due to be sailed in version 5 boats.

At a presentation at the Royal Thames Yacht Club earlier this year it was stated that participation in the 2009 regattas would be compulsory, but at a meeting in Auckland just a few weeks afterwards, suddenly this wasn’t the case. Confusion reigned. Today however, according to the press release, ‘competitors decided that participation in the 2009 pre-regattas on ACC Version 5.0 yachts is to be compulsory for all teams and it is intended that syndicates be allocated bases once they confirm their participation in these races.’

Simple then.

There were twelve bases in the Darsena during 2007, including that of Alinghi, perhaps this fact provides the clearest indication of what might be on the cards while we wait for the outcome of the appeal hearing in a few weeks time.