America’s Cup: Alinghi boss touted as contributor to possible America’s Cup court action

Suggestions have surfaced that Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli is being touted as one of the contributors to possible court action involving rich-lister Mark Dunphy.

The Alinghi name will raise some hackles in New Zealand. In 2003, Alinghi took the Cup from an under-performing Team NZ after poaching leading sailors including Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth.

Up until now, rumours of Alinghi’s interest in a return to the Cup have centred on whether the Swiss syndicate will buy a first-version AC75 from another team, the fastest way of bridging the huge gap in design and racing of the foiling monohull for a team that did not challenge in Auckland.

Cup sources say Alinghi talked to both Team NZ and Italy’s Luna Rossa with a view not only to buying a boat but maybe picking up some team members, principally designers, as well.

That was not successful; things then went quiet. But now sailing circles are alight with talk that the names of Bertarelli and Oracle billionaire boss Larry Ellison are being mentioned as potential backers of court action in the New York Supreme Court. It is not known if either or both are backers of the Dunphy home defence fund.

Emirates Team NZ isn’t talking but the reappearance of Alinghi maybe explains why Dalton has been previously highlighting the raid on the team and loss of the Cup in 2003 so much.

Herald inquiries regarding the rumours resulted in this statement being issued by Team NZ: “We have been made aware that an approach has been made to NYYC to investigate their interest in taking action in the New York Supreme Court to ‘disqualify’ the Royal Yacht Squadron Racing as the Challenger of Record and install NYYC and that “Team Dunphy” has had communications regarding this with Ernesto Bertarelli and/or Larry Ellison either direct or via intermediaries. We have been informed that NYYC has no appetite for such action.”

The explanation for all this reads a bit like a conspiracy theory that might not be out of place as a movie or a TV series although, as Team NZ boss Grant Dalton is fond of saying: “This is the America’s Cup; nothing is ever as it seems.”

The theory is that Alinghi want into the next Cup – but they have neither boat nor crew, thanks to the nationality rule which stipulates that the vast majority of team members have to come from the challenging country. Nothing has been heard from Oracle Team USA since they lost the Cup to team NZ in Bermuda.

The AC75 is such a complex animal that it is not just a matter of buying a boat, making a few tweaks and learning how to sail it fast. Software is vital, as is design – with designers arguably even more valuable than sailors right now. Being two cycles behind Team NZ would be self-defeating.

So the theory is there may be a backdoor way into the next challenge, that door perhaps inadvertently opened by Team NZ’s proposal for an overseas venue for the next defence.

Here’s how it goes:

• A homegrown, patriotic-sounding campaign is launched to keep the 37th America’s Cup defence in Auckland.

• One of the most puzzling things about the campaign is that its leader, Mark Dunphy, has never itemised who his backers are nor specified exactly how much money is available.

• In concert with the home defence efforts, possible court action is being prepared against the Challenger of Record (COR), Ineos Team UK – questioning the formation of the yacht club heading the challenge, Royal Yacht Squadron Racing.

• The motivation would be to install the New York Yacht Club as COR, enabling that club to push hard for (a) an Auckland defence and (b) an end to the nationality requirements.

“This explains why Dunphy has been so vague when it comes to saying who’s behind him and where the money is coming from,” said one source.

“You don’t have to make too much of a leap to see that one day, if they manage to pull off an Auckland defence, they will put out a press release saying that – as a condition of that deal – they have sold the design specs to a challenger.

“They’d say it didn’t matter because Team NZ has an amazing design team and what’s been sold is basically redundant.”

However, it would mean one of the backers of the home defence would have been able to leap the design gulf and become competitive.

The theory gained speed when it was floated by yachting writer and pundit Magnus Wheatley, who said in his blog recently: “And tell me if I’m wrong but doesn’t it start to become clearer and explain why the original intent was to remove Grant Dalton, the ultimate winning machine from the team (since rowed back) in that opening gambit of press work?

“If you can stay in the shadows long enough, and the campaign to keep the Cup in Auckland is compelling enough, the patsy that fronted the bid gets all the attention, and hogs the headlines. The court of public opinion combined with global pandemic woes and a dire sponsorship landscape forces the hand of Team New Zealand and a deal is struck.”

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