Defending America's Cup champion Alinghi of Switzerland said Thursday it will forfeit the oldest trophy in international sports if American challenger BMW Oracle Racing succeeds in getting a New York court to disqualify the sails on its giant catamaran.
The statement from Fred Meyer, vice commodore of Alinghi's backing yacht club, Societe Nautique de Geneve, is perhaps the most bizarre twist yet in a long, bitter legal fight between two of the world's richest men, Swiss biotech mogul Ernesto Bertarelli and American software tycoon Larry Ellison.
Their powerhouse sailing teams are scheduled to begin a rare best-of-three showdown Feb. 8 in massive multihulls in Valencia, Spain, for the silver trophy the Swiss have held since 2003.
They've been in court for more than two years, and could be right up until within days of what could be the most exciting racing in the 159-year history of the America's Cup.
"We have been clear: If BMW Oracle succeeds in disqualifying the Defender's sails then there will be no Match," Meyer said. "Russell Coutts will have won the America's Cup for Larry Ellison without sailing."
BMW Oracle Racing has gone to the New York State Supreme Court again, arguing that the sails on the 90-foot Alinghi 5 breach America's Cup rules because they were not made in the team's home country.
The Swiss said in court papers filed last week that the sails were constructed in Switzerland using blanks built at North Sails' plant in Minden, Nev.
BMW Oracle Racing said it's not trying to disqualify Alinghi's boat, but wants the issue clarified before racing begins. The Americans have offered to delay the racing to give the Swiss time to build new sails for their 90-foot catamaran.
It's not clear if the court will hold a hearing before Feb. 8. BMW Oracle Racing spokesman Tom Ehman said the syndicate hopes there's a hearing early next week.
Coutts, a three-time America's Cup winner, has been CEO and skipper of BMW Oracle Racing since July 2007, right about when the legal scrum began. He skippered Alinghi's victory over his native New Zealand in 2003, then had a falling out with Bertarelli and was fired the following year.
The latest dispute in the convoluted legal tiff is over North Sails' patented 3DL sail, built by laminating carbon and other fibers between two layers of Mylar.
Meyer called it "an irony unto itself given Russell's use of 3DL sails on every AC team he has raced with since 1995; New Zealand, Switzerland and now the USA."
Each team has offered its own interpretation of the Deed of Gift, the 1887 document that governs the America's Cup. Just like with every other issue in the long spat, those interpretations differ.
Alinghi says the Deed of Gift stipulates that only the hull needs to be built in country, not the sails. The Americans say that since sails are part of the yacht, they need to be built in country.
"Alinghi's constructed-in-country violation is yet another example of SNG's reckless disregard for the Deed of Gift, and of their repeated attempts to gain an advantage by shamelessly breaking the rules," Ehman said in a statement.
BMW Oracle Racing will counter with USA, a 90-by-90-foot trimaran with a radical wing sail. That wing sail has led to the Swiss filing a motion with the court saying USA no longer meets the specifications the Americans included in their challenge certificate filed in July 2007.