Alinghi and BMW Oracle are to meet on Monday morning before the court case starts. Could a settlement be reached?

If the rugby world cup, the final race in the Formula 1 season and the usual round of endless football matches, didn’t provide enough sport to talk about over the weekend, the final bouts of posturing between Alinghi and BMW Oracle Racing should have provided plenty more issues for debate over the Sunday dinner table.
Within hours, the dispute between these two Cup teams will enter the courts in New York on Monday (22 October) if a settlement isn’t reached beforehand. Over the weekend, both teams issued statements in which each team claimed to be keen to find a way of settling the dispute before the lawyers turned their meters onto full scale litigation rates. First came the statement from BMW Oracle and its supporting yacht club the Golden Gate Yacht Club. Then came a statement from Alinghi which reads as follows.

Over the past few months Alinghi, Defender of the 33rd America’s Cup, has been engaged in dialogue with BMW Oracle Racing (BOR) at various levels in an attempt to find a solution to the law suit filed by the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) against the Société Nautique de Genève (SNG). BMW Oracle, through Russell Coutts, has repeatedly shifted the discussion frame by adding new demands each time Alinghi moved to resolve the issues raised. Nonetheless, the last communication to BOR from Alinghi before their press release was an invitation to a private meeting in New York before the hearing to try and resolve the issue once and for all. This morning they confirmed their attendance at this meeting.

The Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) and Alinghi have done much to try to convince BOR to drop their law suit; the SNG instigated a Protocol review with the entered Challengers and, with the Challenger of Record, Club Náutico Español de Vela, agreed a number of amendments to satisfy the GGYC and BMW Oracle’s claims. At this point, Russell Coutts requested via the Challengers group, reassurance that Alinghi would not have a head start in designing their new boat and advised at least two challengers BOR would settle if Alinghi could prove it did not have a design advantage.

Alinghi responded by asking the entered Challengers to set the displacement, a fundamental parametre, for the new class. The Challengers did so, and were satisfied that this would negate any design head start. For BOR it still was not enough and they then wanted to analyse the displacement parametre in light of the full rules, not trusting the Challenger’s designers, who confirmed the parametre was crucial enough to provide the expected guarantees.

To the dismay of Alinghi and the Challengers, BOR, through Russell, sent a letter on 18th October to Alinghi with a further nine issues to be satisfied, including new points not previously raised. Several of these were completely against the fundamentals of the programme agreed by all legitimately entered Challengers and the cost cutting strategy presiding over the 33rd America’s Cup.

With regard to the rules disclosure, Grant Simmer, Alinghi design team coordinator, says: “Alinghi is working with the Challengers to develop the new class rule. This was started on the 15 September and the Challengers have stated that they are happy with this process. There are several key issues still being debated but we are working towards issuing the rule on 31 October. If BOR chooses to enter they will be welcomed into this process.”

Brad Butterworth, Alinghi team skipper, adds his positive comments on the situation: “We are driven by the vision to create a bigger and better event for everyone in 2009 with new boats but reduced costs and increased competition. Some may say we were too ambitious but since then we have undertaken a raft of measures to try and find a solution to this issue. We have consulted on the design of the new class, we have amended the Protocol and we have allowed the challengers to pick the displacement of the boat, as we were led to believe this was the last remaining issue for BMW Oracle. Despite not yet having issued the new class rule, they know a lot about the concept, plus they had the chance to agree the displacement. I firmly believe that there is still time left to agree a solution with BMW Oracle and for them to drop their law suit and join the other Challengers to help us make this an even greater event than the last. The last communication that we sent to them before their press release of last night was an invitation to a private meeting in New York on Monday morning before the hearing to have one last go at finding an agreement, something we still hope to do for the better of the event, the challengers and us.”