Valencia Sailing talks to Grant Simmer
Last Thursday Valencia Sailing visited the Alinghi base and talked to Grant Simmer, managing director and design coordinator of the Defender of the 33rd America's Cup. Our interest was of course the hearing that had taken place in New York 3 days earlier (January 23rd) and more specifically Alinghi's claim that "multihulls" and "keel yachts" are two incompatible types of vessels. The interview doesn't of course take into consideration the documents submitted this week. It's quite long but very interesting.
Valencia Sailing: So far during the legal battle Valencia Sailing has avoided taking any sides and tried to be as objective and neutral as possible. Still, after reading your arguments in the hearing and especially the letter from Jerome Pels (ISAF secretary general), I don’t feel convinced. I even think that Mr Pels writes that the terms "multihull" and "keel yacht" are not contradictory. Is that so?
Grant Simmer: You are wrong and I’ll tell you why. The term keel yacht or keel boat describes a type of sailing boat. Other than a lawyer trying to make an argument in New York, everybody that is involved in sailing knows what a keel yacht is and a multihull isn't a keel yacht. It's as simple as that. It's not to say that a multihull can't have a keel attached to it or that there might have been some cruising multihulls with keel attached to them but they are not keel yachts. They are vessels that have a small keel. Take for example the pictures GGYC showed, a bunch of cruising catamarans or trimarans with small keels so that they can be beached or so that they can have a tank underneath the hull. This doesn't make it a keel yacht.
Let me tell you why it's important. In the old days, when somebody challenged for the America's Cup, they had to describe the vessel they were going to challenge in. That's why you have to submit a certificate of the vessel. You tell the Defender, "we are going to challenge you in a vessel that looks like this, a yacht that looks like this". In the early days, the New York Yacht Club used to say, "you have to tell us exactly the beam of the vessel, the waterline length, what type of boat it is, is it a keel yacht or a centerboard?" Then the NY Yacht Club would either design a boat or pick one out of its fleet in order to race the challenger's vessel. That's how it was until we started having classes of boats in the America's Cup. What they have done is that they haven't described the vessel at all.
Valencia Sailing: How detailed must this description be according to the Deed of Gift?
Grant Simmer: The reason for providing the certificate is to describe the vessel, not to disguise the vessel. Even last night, Tom Ehman said on the steps of the court, "I promise you the boat will have a keel". What does this say about the boat that is going to challenge us to win the America's Cup? What does it tell us?
Valencia Sailing: It tells you it's going to have a keel. Isn't that enough?
Grant Simmer: Is it a keel yacht, is it a trimaran, a catamaran, what does this vessel actually look like? Does anybody know?
Valencia Sailing: But isn't this the challenger's prerogative? You are asking them to reveal the boat not just describe it.
Grant Simmer: It's a fundamental issue, a fundamental legal argument. We believe the challenger has to describe its boat in order for the Defender to prepare for the match. So, they have to do that when they present their challenge and give you a ten-month warning. That's how it works. If that's not true then the whole argument doesn't matter. Why submit any certificate at all? Why not just say, "see you in ten months"?
Valencia Sailing: I will come back to my previous question. How detailed must this description be according to the Deed of Gift?
Grant Simmer: If you read our argumentation you'll see that the person that wrote the Deed actually said, the reason for providing a certificate of vessel is so that the Defender understands the nature and details of the vessel the challenger is proposing to race. If you go back historically and look at it, there is a lot of arguing about how they measure the waterline, whether the boat had the correct waterline length they specified. For instance, SNG will need to measure this boat they will challenge with, to see it complies with the certificate. SNG will have to appoint measurers that will actually measure the boat to see whether it agrees with the certificate. This is what the NY Yacht Club used to do.
Valencia Sailing: Let's consider again the letter of Jerome Pels. He states that "multihulls" and "keel boats" are indeed incompatible but limits that to the Olympic classes. What we have here is the America's Cup, not the Olympics. Mr Pels doesn't explicitly say that these two terms are contradictory in the America's Cup. In my view he leaves a window wide open.
Grant Simmer: It's fundamental that when you challenge you describe your vessel and nobody, nobody, describes a multihull as a keel yacht. Why say it's a keel yacht when you meant to say it's a multihull, unless you want to be deceptive, you want to deceive the Defender on the details of the boat? Why do you say that your multihull is a keel boat? What's the point of it?
Valencia Sailing: It could be a multihull with a keel or keels.
Grant Simmer: A keel yacht is a descriptive term. I'll give you an example. I'm going yacht racing and I have a TP52. I say it's motor yacht, my TP52 is a motor boat. Would you describe a TP52 as a motor boat? It has a motor, so it's a motor boat. If you want to enter your TP52 in a regatta, would you ever say, "I'm entering a motor boat"?
Valencia Sailing: The TP52 class is an established one with a well established rule.
Grant Simmer: OK, I'm going in the Sydney Hobart race where you have a whole range of yachts and I pretend I'm entering the race in a motor boat. According to GGYC's logic I am, because I have a boat that has a motor in it. So, tell me what the difference is. If our interpretation is correct, on why you have to describe your vessel when you put a certificate of vessel, then they haven't described it, they are purposely trying to be misleading.
Let me tell you something that started their problems. Once SNG tries to measure the vessel, to see whether it complies with the certificate they are going to have some difficult issues, particularly measuring waterline beam.
Valencia Sailing: Why?
Grant Simmer: If you look at the regulations in regard to multihull yachts, the normal description is the beam of the hull.
Valencia Sailing: Do you feel confident now after the hearing?
Grant Simmer: It's a legal process, it will be ongoing, for sure. That's the unfortunate situation we are in.
Valencia Sailing: Why didn't you bring up that issue earlier? GGYC claims you had no doubts about the nature of the yacht.
Grant Simmer: Right now, we have written them a letter saying we can't accept their challenge because we have a valid challenger which is the CNEV and until we get a court order telling us not to accept the CNEV challenge we don't have to accept their challenge. At the moment, we still legally have a current challenger.
Valencia Sailing: You are right, but it's a matter of days before the CNEV is declared an invalid challenger. You will then have to accept their challenge.
Grant Simmer: You are assuming the judge is going to make that order.
Valencia Sailing: I assume it based on his decision last November, I am not making any wild speculation! Assuming his order is not different from his decision, on that particular issue, CNEV has a handful of days left as a valid challenger. You will then have to accept GGYC's challenge.
Grant Simmer: He might also order that their challenge is invalid as well. One outcome is that he might provide a court order saying that CNEV is not a valid Challenger of Record because of the timing of their annual regatta and GGYC is not the Challenger of Record either because their challenge documents are invalid. That would be a good ruling for us.
Valencia Sailing: What will happen in that case? Will Team Origin be the Challenger of Record?
Grant Simmer: It could be. There is a couple of options. We will then go ahead with a multiple-challenger America's Cup in 2011, on AC90's here in Valencia. Same thing to what the 32nd America's Cup was, with the new rules we created last year.
Valencia Sailing: What will happen if Justice Cahn orders that the CNEV is not a valid challenger but that the GGYC is a valid one?
Grant Simmer: We said last night that we would appeal that decision.
Valencia Sailing: Isn't this stalling tactics from your side just to gain more time?
Grant Simmer: Not really because the best outcome for us is to get on with a challenger that shares the same vision with us about what the next America's Cup should be. We will then go ahead and run a regatta, better than what the 32nd America's Cup was. I don't think it's in the interest of the America's Cup to watch two teams race massive multihulls. I mean it might be interesting technically and visually but the racing wouldn't be very exciting. I don't think there is a lot of people thinking this is a good solution for the America's Cup.
Valencia Sailing: In the meantime, are you going ahead with training onboard the two Extreme 40 catamarans?
Grant Simmer: Obviously, we have to prepare for that. We have to prepare ourselves for a multihull challenge. This is why we bought the Extreme 40's. This also why the design team has stopped working on the AC90 and started working on multihulls.
Valencia Sailing: You just stated that in the best interest of the America's Cup the ideal solution would be a regatta very similar to the 32nd edition here in Valencia, with the new rules you wrote last year. Why didn't you then settle with BMW Oracle early last November when they had dropped most of their initial demands and agreed to the Protocol with slight changes?
Grant Simmer: You have to look a little bit more at the history. Originally they said, "change the Protocol and we'll enter". We changed the Protocol but they didn't enter. Then they said, "change the boat and we'll enter". We changed a fundamental feature of the boat and they didn't enter. Next thing, "change the format of racing and we'll enter". We kept clarifying the solution.
Now they have 3 issues still pending. The first one is to hold the race in 2009 and not 2011. They are the only team that kept designing AC90's, they are the only team that is tank testing, they are the only team with enough money to keep going with all this uncertainty.
The second issue is two-boat testing, they want two-boat testing, and the last one is the format of racing. These are fundamental issues!
Take 2009 versus 2011. We need to raise sponsorship, the event needs to raise sponsorship, so does every other team that wants to compete. At the moment all the other teams are basically stopped because of their legal action. They are the only team that kept going, they are the only team with 40 cars parked in front of the base every day.
The next issue is two-boat testing. Why do they want that? Because it's bloody expensive and that is the way you can develop these boats, particularly a new class. So if you have the most money, you want two-boat testing for sure.
Finally, they don't want us to compete with the other challengers in the elimination series, which was fundamental to the documents we presented last summer.
Valencia Sailing: Obviously, but if you allow two-boat testing then there is no need for you to race with the challengers.
Grant Simmer: We offered all the other challengers that. We would have two-boat testing without competing in the series. Either you allow Alinghi two-boat testing and the challengers race themselves or you prohibit two-boat testing but you allow us to race through the semifinals. What you can't do is prohibit two-boat testing and keep us out of the elimination series. I'm sure BMW Oracle would want that because it would make us completely uncompetitive. The first time we would have raced an AC90 boat would be in the America's Cup match itself! It's ridiculous.
Valencia Sailing: If you could miraculously turn back the clock, is there anything you would have done differently since last June?
Grant Simmer: I think we didn't sell the protocol properly. That was seen badly and was addressed with the changes in the protocol we made in September. The CNEV had stated they would only act in the majority interest of the challengers. When we were in the meetings, Jonh Cutler (technical director of Desafío Español) would only act in the majority of challengers. They weren't trying to screw the rest of challengers, they were working in the interest of everybody else.
Valencia Sailing: If after all the legal process is through and you finally have to accept a multihull challenge from BMW Oracle when would you rather have the race?
Grant Simmer: Certainly 2009 is the best option for us. We don't want to race next October but they do since they are a long way ahead. You don't design and build one of these big boats in an instant. It's a long process. We believe they are quite well progressed with the construction of the boat which has a keel. We think they are somewhere along the line with construction or they have already built the molds. You have to ask them.
Definitely, they are ahead of us because they started last July. We were in contact with Marc Van Peteghem in July when he told us he was working for another team. There's only one other team! So, he had to be working for them which he was. We only started working on the design of the multihull in the middle of December. Up until the judgment we were pretty much convinced we were going to win the court case.
Valencia Sailing: So a race in October 2008 is your worst case scenario.
Grant Simmer: No, a race in July 2008 is even worse! The positive side is that the boats are exciting but as I said it's in nobody's interest to have an America's Cup with two teams. That's why if they are found to be invalid we can move forward and run an event in 2011. In that case they would probably appeal but the appeal could go in the background and I don't think their case would be very strong.