BMW Oracle Press Conference - Valencia - 8 Jan 2010
Greetings from cold and wintry Valencia. After many years, probably a good 15 years, it snowed in downtown Valencia early on Friday morning as the Mediterranean city woke up during an unexpected snowfall. There was a public warning during the last 2-3 days that snow could fall up to 20-30 km from the city but it was a surprise to see the white flakes falling on the Malvarosa beach. If the 33rd America's Cup was to start exactly a month before the scheduled day, not only would it have been the most spectacular it would surely have been the whitest one. We will have to check Bob Fisher's bible on the world's oldest sports trophy to see whether there has been snow in any of the 32 previous editions.
Given these harsh wintry conditions it didn't come as a surprise to learn once we got in the BMW Oracle base that the team's CEO, Russell Coutts, wouldn't be talking to us because he was bedridden with a terrible cold. As a result, it was the team's Australian helmsman and match-racing supremo, James Spithill, that went through the challenges of sailing their giant trimaran BOR 90. With him were Manolo Ruiz de Elvira and Joseph Ozanne, members of the design team.
Another noticeable absence today was Tom Ehman, the team's head of External Affairs and usual master of ceremonies of all the press conferences and presentations BMW Oracle carries out. Instead, it was Tim Jeffery, the newly-appointed Director of Communications, that conducted the press conference. Ehman is currently in the United States, together with BMW Oracle's legal team in order to further investigate on Alinghi's sails. As Jeffery stated, they have "very serious concerns" about the sails Alinghi is using on their yacht, which they have also publicly raised by asking the five-member International Jury recently appointed by the International Sailing Federation to rule on the matter. Ehman will soon leave the US and fly to Singapore in order to meet with Alinghi and the Chairman of the international jury, David Tillett.
Should we expect further legal action from BMW Oracle on that issue? Is Ehman's presence in the US a sign that such action is imminent? According to BMW Oracle, the sails currently used on Alinghi 5 have been made in Nevada and not Switzerland, as required by the Deed of Gift. In addition, Jeffery stated that Alinghi has been warned by his team, more than a year ago, that they would be taking a perilous path should they go on and make these sails in the USA.
From left, Joseph Ozanne, Manolo Ruiz de Elvira and James Spithill. Valencia, 8 January 2010. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing
As for the press conference itself, we didn't get any wiser, although a private chat afterwards with Joseph Ouzanne, the French "father" of the wing sail, was very instructive. The best part of it focused on explaining why we will probably never see BOR 90, their giant trimaran inside Port America's Cup, or darsena (basin), the Spanish term often used by all, even if this is obligatory as per the Notice of Race.
All four men, Spithill, Jeffery, Elvira and Ouzanne went to great lengths explaining how difficult and dangerous is to maneuver the giant trimaran with the wing sail on it. The safety of the yacht as well as her crew could be endangered. The 600 square meters of wing sail produce huge forces even with a very light breeze and small angle against the wind. According to Ozanne, BOR 90 with the wing sail on can reach 10 knots of speed in a matter of seconds and when you move at 5 meters per second, even a reaction time of 1-2 seconds can prove crucial.
Both Spithill and Elvira insisted that Alinghi would never go in or out of the darsena with Alinghi 5 having her sails hoisted. Conventional sails are hoisted and lowered always outside of the darsena. Even if they manage to enter the interior basin with the wing sail on it could then prove to be impossible to get out safely and on time. BOR 90 is approximately 30 meters wide and the canal 70 meters, so a gust could wreak havoc. In comparison, the entrance of the commercial port where their current temporary base is located, is more than 500 meters wide.
Even assuming the yacht entered the interior basin, another major safety issue would be maneuvering inside. As Ouzanne stated, at the top of 60-meter high mast wind speed in considerably higher than on water surface, so it is necessary to lower it almost parallel to water surface. Adding the necessary safety margin on top of the 60 meters of the mast, the yacht requires a a radius of approximately 150 meters around her, clear of any obstacles. All these conditions are clearly not satisfied inside Port America's Cup, according to Spithill, and for that reason his team will continue operating from the temporary base in the commercial port.
James Spithill talks to the local media. Valencia, 8 January 2010. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing