Alinghi's Grant Simmer talks about everything
With the 33rd America's Cup in suspense and while we are holding our breath, waiting for Judge Cahn's decision, it is always interesting to read what both sides have to say on the issue. Grant Simmer gave the following interview on the Alinghi website:
What have you been up to over the last few weeks?
“I have been pretty busy. I have been working hard on the class rule, on the competition regulations and a little bit on the event regulations, but that isn’t really my area. Then I went home for a week to see my family and now I am back in Valencia. Obviously things are really uncertain at the moment and that's a problem for our whole team. It's disappointing really because we had done a lot of work on the class rule and on the competition regulations. We, as a group, ACManagement and Alinghi, had been receiving a lot of criticism about the Protocol. We had addressed that and had started working with the other competitors through the Competitors Commission. We had many meetings about the rules and the competition regulations and that process worked very well. I think they have all been happy with it. We had defined an event that was going to happen in 2009 with virtually all the rules in place. A lot of the problems that BMW Oracle had were being addressed in those meetings by Emirates Team New Zealand, because they were acting as sort of spokesperson for BMW Oracle. So it was disappointing that we still ended up without them entering. Really all they had to do was enter into the conditions in the same way as every other competition and then we could have got on with it. Then we would have been guaranteed racing in 2009; the whole America's Cup community could have been re-employed and work could have started and we could have got going. Right now we are in this period where we don't know what is going to happen. We're waiting for the court. It's really a lousy time for everyone who's involved in the America's Cup.”
A deadline was set for 17:00 on 16 November for the court case to be dropped. What was the negotiating philosophy from Alinghi's point of view?
“We had to try to get some certainty into this event. We couldn't just keep going on an uncertain basis. Even when the judge comes back with a decision on whether the Spanish yacht club is valid, either party could still appeal and that leaves us with continuing uncertainty. So from my point of view, what I have been trying to achieve – along with people like Tom Schnackenberg and everyone else who has been involved in trying to get these regulations out – is an event in 2009 that people would want to compete in. I think we did a pretty good job and the fact that new challengers have come forward and put their hands up to say they want to get involved, I think indicates that we have been doing ok. It's just such a shame that we can't press a button and get going.”
A few challengers suddenly signed a letter in support of BMW Oracle's offer. Were you expecting that?
“That was incredibly disappointing. The same people a few days before had been saying how happy they were with the competition regulations. Three or four days later they changed their opinions, despite what they had said in the forum when all the competitors were together.”
Do you think our colleagues up the road realise the impact this is having on families, employment and thousands of people around the world wondering what's going on?
“I hope they understand, but perhaps they don't care about the effect of their actions. The classic thing is that the Spanish Yacht Club have said: “We will not act unilaterally, we will only act in the majority interest of the challengers.” The challengers have the same amount of power they have always had. The only legitimate grievance BMW Oracle has is that they are no longer the Challenger of Record. They were the Challenger of Record last time and they were in a powerful position, they had a lot of control, particularly in the early days. Between March 2003 and December 2003 when we spent a lot of time negotiating the rules that governed the 32nd America's Cup. They didn't consult with any other challengers, they did it solely with the Defender. The process that we've just been through for the 33rd event incorporated all the competitors in the negotiation process, so it's far better than when BOR was the Challenger of the Record. Their grievance is that they are no longer the Challenger of Record, so by going to the court they have bought themselves a stick with which they can try to regain some power.”
If you are planning to build a new boat, what do you say to Décision boat yard who are waiting for the green light to get started?
“We are keeping them informed. We were planning to build a boat fairly early next year and at this stage it's really uncertain if that's going to happen.”
What was the thinking behind a new class and what are the risks?
“Firstly the AC90 is quite a cool boat, it's changed a lot and it's been well publicised. Prior to winning the America's Cup, we made the decision to move to a new class. We were all quite excited about that and as I said before, I was the one to push for the short cycle, to stop two boat testing and just do a short cycle in the new class. It was quite a bold move, it's probably the highest risk manoeuvre for a Defender because every time you introduce a new class you see a lot of variation in the new boats, so it becomes a design contest. By doing a two year cycle it leaves teams with not a lot of time. Everyone would have one boat and the Defender would be racing in amongst the challengers right until the end of the Semi Final. That was a strategy that I think everyone got comfortable with after a while, the other competitors particularly. They were all quite excited about this new boat. I just hope that we get to build a couple of them.”
So what are the ramifications of this delay?
“The ramifications are that we don't know what is going to happen. We are basically waiting until we know whether we can go forward. Every day you wake up and think maybe BMW Oracle will enter today and release the America's Cup community to start work. You think it's still not too late to do 2009 or you think the judge might make a decision and we will go to the next stage of the legal process or the legal process will just stop.”
What's your standpoint on the media talk that we could be racing multihulls next year. What do we know about multihulls?
“We don't know a lot about multihulls, but we might have to learn a lot quickly. That is if the court rules that the Spanish Yacht Club is not valid under the terms of the Deed of Gift and we don't appeal or the court process doesn't get further delayed, then we could end up racing in catamarans. But we don't have a lot of time and we haven't started work on that yet.”
Why do you think Mascalzone Latino and the new second Spanish team entered in the current climate?
“I think it's a good sign. I hope Vincenzo read about the AC90 class and saw where we were going with the rules. He must still know about the uncertainty and don't forget he is very close to Russell. He is for sure fully briefed about what's going on. But I think it's an indication that he wants to be part of it and doesn't want to lose the opportunity to be here and be within this community.”
Do you think it's likely all the bases could be full of challengers by the end of the week?
“We're getting there. I think there is a limitation on the number of bases so I think people are thinking I'd better get my entry in before I miss out.”
How does Ernesto feel about all of this?
“You should ask Ernesto that really. My concern is that he has been great for all of us involved in Alinghi, he has been fantastic in the way he has created the team and supported the team. He has given us a lot of rope, given us a lot of freedom, he's always looked after us and it has always been a really happy team. I can tell you I have been in some America's Cup teams where it's not a lot of fun to go to work every day. But this team has been a hell of a lot of fun and that has been a big part of it. He got to enjoy winning the America's Cup for a couple of weeks. Since then it has been pretty miserable really with all this stuff going on. We want people to be interested in the event and not select other events. We don't want sponsors looking at other sports away from sailing. If you look at what ACM achieved for the sport in this last event and how we brought it to Europe and how we put on a travelling circus going around Europe; if you look at how many people – not in the sailing community, not journalists, not people that go racing all year round – but the public in Europe. How much sailing they got to see and how close they got to it. I don't know the statistics but it's several million people that got involved and interested and thought that sailing is a cool thing. That's one of the things they wanted to achieve by bringing the Cup to Europe. That's one thing ACM has really achieved together with the whole America's Cup community. We shouldn't forget that, we shouldn't just be looking at sailing blogs and reading negative news about the America's Cup. We should be thinking about the whole public and how they feel about the Cup. We should be thinking about how it's an important sport now for the European community. Certainly it always has been in New Zealand and Australia and strong yachting communities, it's not been so big in the United States but hopefully with the next event we can increase the interest over there.”
What's top of your job list this week, what do you want to have achieved by Friday?
“By Friday, there's just a couple of issues that we are working on with the AC90 that we need to solve. Hopefully we will get to the bottom of that. What I would like to achieve is to have a vision for what the next event will look like.”