Saturday, May 31, 2008

BMW Oracle's Tom Ehman and Manolo Ruiz de Elvira talk in Valencia's yacht club

It was interesting but it wasn't what we were expecting or what we would have liked to listen or see. This pretty much sums up Friday night's presentation by Tom Ehman, head of external affairs, and Manolo Ruiz de Elvira, senior designer, at the premises of Valencia's yacht club. The two men from America's Cup Challenger of Record BMW Oracle talked to an audience of around 40 people on the America's Cup for about an hour and a half, touching almost all aspects of the world's oldest sports competition, ranging from its history to the most recent legal issues and the current state of affairs of their own team.

It was initially planned to be a "private" talk, restricted to the yacht club's members but finally the media were allowed, a fact that in my view definitely altered the issues, tone and philosophy of the presentation. It suffices to say that around 25 minutes into the show, the crew of Valencia's main TV station was asked to turn off the cameras and take them out of the room. Obviously, Valencia Sailing doesn't have any footage either, despite the fact I had my camera ready. In addition, even the liberty of taking pictures was restrained and I was once asked to put it away, when the presentation's most "revealing" slide appeared (it was the oven where, according to Ehman, the biggest parts of the yacht's hull are baked; more on that later). It is true though, there was hardly anything revealing or new for anybody with some knowledge or understanding of the issues. Don't expect any scoops here.

As I said, around 35 members and 5 journalists were present. This is not Anacortes or New York, so nobody was expecting a huge turnout although any club member would have liked it, it was entertaining. The audience ranged from the old commodore down to the 9-year old kid and optimist sailor who took the microphone and stated his dream was to become a sailor of BMW Oracle. In fact, the whole show was a good PR action by the team towards the host city of the event, rather than a meeting of the design heads. The point was to make the American team look more pro-Valencian than Alinghi.

Given that aim, the show had to be fun and of course try to portray the Defender in a disadvantaged position. Seconds after getting the microphone, Ehman's first question to the audience was who was supporting Alingi and who his team. I can assure you there were more pro-BMW Oracle hands raised. After that he went on presenting the history of the America's Cup, from 1851 to the 32nd edition. He cunningly praised Alinghi and Ernesto Bertarelli for the all the "great things" they achieved in the 32nd America's Cup that resulted in the best racing ever.

But of course he was not there to praise Bertarelli. His next slide was titled "Why not continue with what we already had in the 32nd Cup?". Because, according to Ehman, "our friend Ernesto had a different idea" and created the CNEV (Club Nautico Español de Vela) in order to better control the America's Cup. When the now-infamous photo of the Protocol signature aboard Vava flashed on the screen, I was surprised by the boos heard, the voices of contempt and the shouts of "shame" or "disgrace". It is true though, that Valencia's yacht club had high expectations to be the Challenger of Record, instead of the newly-formed CNEV.

Ehman and Ruiz de Elvira gave an overview of the legal steps taken by BMW Oracle after the presentation by Alinghi and the CNEV of the new protocol, always trying to choose the worst looking photos when anyone related to Alinghi was shown. In fact, with all my respect to him, the face of SNG's secretary while receiving GGYC's challenge, on July 11, was funny. He surely didn't seem happy at all.

At times it was not the photos that were funny but the captions used to describe them. There was one of the July 25 presentation, showing Bertarelli and Michel Bonnefous with the caption "I can't lose - I have the best lawyers"

First family photo of BMW Oracle in September 2007. Valencia, 30 May 2008. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

He then showed BMW Oracle's first family photo (see above) taken sometime in September 2007 after Russell Coutts had formed the core of the team. One of the following slides was by far the most imaginative. Ernesto Bertarelli was shown holding the America's Cup and kissing it (it was difficult to tell whether it was from the 31st or the 32nd edition) with a hilarious caption "Kiss my cup", probably referring to the Swiss billionaire's refusal to negotiate. Both Ehman and Ruiz de Elvira repeatedly brought up that issue, Bertarelli's alleged refusal to talk, when commenting on the events from July 2007 to December 2007.

It was then time to talk about what BMW Oracle is currently doing, sailing-wise. So, they mentioned the RC44s, the TP52s and of course the Extreme 40's. Surprisingly, there were photos of BMW Oracle's catamaran capsize last week here in Valencia but that was a great opportunity to show that Alinghi also capsizes, showing Friday's incident in Lugano both with pictures as well as video (that you can watch here). The audience was amazed to see the impressive capsize of Alingh's white catamaran at the top mark.

BMW Oracle has also been training in trimarans as has Alinghi. Obviously, the slide showed the capsized FONCIA upside down with Alinghi's crew onboard.

What happens next
Half of the talk being about the past, the rest was about the future, or at least what BMW Oracle thinks will happen. One of the slides was about the possible dates of the 33rd America's Cup, stating that July 2008 was "improbable" but leaving a question mark for October 2008 or any month between January and July 2009. According to Ehman, all of Alinghi's legal actions have one and only aim, to win more time.

The slide on possible venues was hilarious as well (see below). It appears that Bertarelli not only is in talks with all the remaining communist regimes of the world, he must have approached most of the kings, sheiks or sultans of the Persian Gulf.

Where will the 33rd America's Cup take place? Valencia, 30 May 2008. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

An hour had passed since the start of the show and we still hadn't heard or seen anything about BOR90x90, the team's multihull under construction. Unfortunately, we didn't learn much and we were even allowed to photograph less. Of course, there wasn't much to see. The only photo of anything close to the boat is here below. This tent is called the "Vehicle Assembly Building" in BMW Oracle parlance. It adjoins the actual boat shed and as its name implies, the various parts of the yacht are assembled in there. It is nothing extraordinary, just a temporary construction in the city of Anacortes, Washington.

The only slide from inside the boat shed will not appear on Valencia Sailing since I was asked to put my camera away. It was a tent inside the boat shed, very similar to the ones used for outdoor parties. According to Ehman, it is the oven where the biggest pieces of the hull are baked. It was obviously completely covered and two, apparently, big pipes were coming out from its sides and merged into one, somewhere in the middle.

As it was expected, neither Ehman nor Ruiz de Elvira entered into any technical details. Still, one slide was educative. The future BOR90x90 is as big as two basketball courts, side by side.

The Vehicle Assembly Building in Anacortes, Washington. Valencia, 30 May 2008. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

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At 4:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great News and Great Job!!!

We look for more photos...



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