Just when we thought the America’s Cup was on track, the squabble’s started again and appears to threaten a setback

Close of play on Tuesday Jan 12th in Singapore should have provided a major step forward in the juddering progress towards the 33rd America’s Cup. After all, with the venue set, both boats on site and the infrastructure for the monster multihulls match growing by the hour in Valencia, the most contentious America’s Cup in modern history was at last moving forwards.

But as the news came through today that the talks in Singapore between the two teams had broken down, you could almost hear the groan of desperation from spectators and professionals that were on the verge of booking their flights to and accommodation in Valencia.

Both teams had sat face to face in full view of two of the newly appointed ISAF umpires, (David Tillett, the chairman of the ISAF America’s Cup Jury, and David Kellett, the ISAF representative), but while they talked,  and by all accounts appeared to agree on a number of key issues, there was plenty of kicking under the table.

Irrespective of who you talk to, and I’ve spoken to both sides, it was the other side that pulled out just moments after the key issues had been agreed and decided. Alinghi/SNG claims that BMW Oracle and GGYC changed their minds and decided to take the, ‘were the sails built in USA or in Switzerland’ topic to court rather than settling it with the ISAF jury. On the other hand, BMW Oracle/GGYC claim that the Alinghi negotiators were prevented from signing their side of the agreement by a higher authority in Geneva.

With such stark contradictions and so little detail on the deal breaking issues, it’s impossible to draw any conclusions other than that the Feb Cup match now looks a degree or two less certain than it did last week. There are those who have suspected that a delay was on the cards for some time, yet both teams are defiant in their claims that they are ready to race, eager to ensure that they are not seen as the team that’s dragging its heels. And yet if we are to believe what we are hearing, both sides have been edging towards a delay.

For Alinghi, the team has been on the back foot since having to leave RAK and strike camp back in Valencia. The possibility of their sails being ruled illegal could cause a major problem both technically and given the timescale and is unlikely to be something that could be resolved in a few weeks.

On the other hand there have been suggestions that BMW Oracle has been asking for a delay too, although the reasons why the outwardly confident American flagged team would want more time is unclear.

So what are the issues that are now causing the problems ?

In a nutshell, BMW Oracle has questioned whether Alinghi was built totally in Switzerland, as required under the terms of the Deed of Gift. In particular they point to the North 3DL sails which started life as moulded panels in North’s plant in Minden USA. The team claims that because this is a Deed of Gift issue of interpretation, it’s a topic that has to be decided by the courts, just as has been the case with the waterline length measurement issue and powered systems.

Alinghi doesn’t agree and says that this is an issue that can be dealt with by the ISAF jury that has recently been approved and presumably now gained true independence.

Alinghi has also claimed several reasons why the country of build issue  isn’t applicable or a correct interpretation of the Deed of Gift, namely that the sails were built, (in other words assembled) in Switzerland and that the intellectual property rights of 3DL lie with two inventors who were Swiss.

Meanwhile, Alinghi has objected to BMW Oracle’s refusal to berth it’s giant wing-masted trimaran in the Darsena, the purpose built America’s Cup basin that was used in 2007, in breach of the draft Notice of Race. BMOR claims that it would be unsafe to bring such a large vessel with full sail up into a harbour with limited space.

And then there’s the issue of the Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions, the latter which was made public only a few days ago. Both are draft at this stage, but even just a general read suggests several areas that will be bound to cause disagreement.

It’s hard to imagine that the first race of the event starts in less than four weeks and sometimes even harder to see how both teams will agree on enough to appear on the same start line on the same day for the same race.

There is however one thing that is for certain – time’s still ticking and it’s fast running out.