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News: Swiss manager tries to deflate U.S. BMW Oracle AC win

March 16, 2010 by Yachtie
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Ernesto Bertarelli, billionaire owner of Alinghi V, insisted on steering his team’s 115-foot catamaran during the recent America’s Cup races.

And in the 2 1/2 years of legal squabbling that led to the event, he implied more than once that Larry Ellison, billionaire owner of the American BMW-Oracle team, was less of a sailor and sportsman because Ellison turned over the steering duties to a professional from Australia, Jimmy Spithill.

After Spithill handed Bertarelli his head, the Swiss billionaire probably understands that his decision to try to take on a real pro mano-a-mano was about as smart as the owner of the Red Wings deciding to take over the goalie duties during the Stanley Cup. It was egotism raised to the level of the absolutely goofy.

Now Fred Meyer, commodore of the Society Nautique de Geneve, the Swiss yacht club that sponsored Alinghi, is trying to find scapegoats for Alinghi’s embarrassing loss and deflect heat that rightfully has come from around the sailing world about the unsportsmanlike behavior of the Swiss during and after the event.

But there are no excuses, not for the sailing mistakes nor the way the SNG members demeaned themselves and sullied the oldest competition in team sports.

The reason Alinghi V drew penalties before each race started was that Bertarelli and his crew made boneheaded mistakes that should have been avoided. Because Bertarelli was the guy holding the wheel, he’s going to get the blame for an opening-race penalty when he failed to give right of way to BMW-Oracle’s USA-17. He just blew it. But the penalty in the second race, for failing to clear the starting box in time, is much harder to understand.

I mean, these guys are Swiss. You’d think one of them would have a decent watch.

Meyer now claims that the penalty was the result of spectator boats that impeded Alinghi’s movement, but photographs prove that the nearest boat was a couple of hundred yards away.

There has been a lot of criticism of Alinghi since the Americans mopped up the water off Valencia, Spain, with the Swiss team a month ago, winning the best-of-three competition in two races and taking back the America’s Cup.
But now Meyer is trying to rewrite history and denigrate an amazing victory by BMW-Oracle and the reputation of Alinghi’s race committee chairman, Harold Bennett, a New Zealander who is one of the most admired officials in international sailing. Meyer said last week that the second race of the cup never should have been held, because conditions were too severe, and that the American victory was hollow. What Meyer needs to admit is his team’s catamaran turned out to be utterly inferior in any conditions to the American trimaran with the incredible wing sail.

USA-17 was the most technologically advanced racing yacht ever built. Alinghi V turned out to be a supersized Hobie 16.
As for Meyer’s contention that a 3-foot swell was too dangerous for those boats, Paul Lewis of the New Zealand Herald said that was like a rugby team refusing to play because the grass was too long. If they can’t sail a 115-foot boat that cost $100 million in conditions that wouldn’t faze the kids in a weekend Hobie event, then it’s time for Meyer and his pals to take up racing model yachts on the local duck pond.

But what really got the sailing world buzzing was an e-mail from Bennett in which he vented to a friend about the underhanded efforts of the SNG members on the race committee to prevent the second race — and ultimate defeat of Alinghi — from taking place. Bennett’s e-mail is full of exclamation marks and indignation, which had it been written by American would be curses and promises of retaliation.

For Harold Bennett to explode like this over the actions of Meyer and Co. tells me it must have been even worse than we know. It’s time for Meyer and the other SNG members to shut up and take their lumps. If they need a hint about how that’s done, refer to the message that appeared on their team’s own website just after they lost:

‘The competition was fair.’

by Eric Sharpe, The Free Press

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