Valencia Sailing talks to Harold Bennett, Regatta Director and Principal Race Officer of the 33rd America's Cup
A mere 4 weeks are left until the first race of the 33rd America's Cup and Valencia Sailing caught up with Harold Bennett, Regatta Director and Principal Race Officer of the 33rd America's Cup. Bennett gives us some background information on him and his team, going to great lengths in order to make it crystal clear that although he's running a regatta for SNG and Alinghi, he is completely independent from them.
This is the first installment of a very interesting series of articles on the technical details of running a Deed-of-Gift America's Cup match. Bennett together with Niccoló Porzio di Camporotondo (Regatta Operations Manager prior to the races and Course Marshall during the races) will explain in depth issues ranging from how communications will be possible over a range of 20 miles to how the buoys and spectators will be placed throughout the race.
Valencia Sailing: Let's start with the basics. What is the official position you have in the 33rd America's Cup?
Harold Bennett: I have two roles. The first one, as Regatta Director, is to organize the racing and have everything prepared and ready to go. Secondly, as Principal Race Officer on the water, my job will be to control the races.
Valencia Sailing: What America's Cup experience do you have in order to carry out your duties here in Valencia?
Harold Bennett: I ran the 30th and 31st America's Cup in Auckland, in 2000 and 2003 respectively, and then I was a Senior Race Officer here in Valencia for the 32nd.
Valencia Sailing: Who hired you to hold the two positions you mentioned?
Harold Bennett: Initially, it was SNG (Société Nautique de Genève, the Defending yacht club) that hired me as Regatta Director, in order to prepare the gear and equipment, to hire more people and get everything ready to run the races. The appointment as Principal Race Officer comes from ISAF. So, ISAF appointed me on that basis.
Valencia Sailing: Who will appoint the rest of race officers?
Harold Bennett: The Umpires, the Jury and the Measurers are all appointed by ISAF.
Valencia Sailing: Until you become the PRO of the match, you will be working for SNG, the Defender. You will prepare everything while being paid by SNG. Do you see any conflict of interest in such a situation?
Harold Bennett: No, none. We have to remind the world that this is a Deed-of-Gift America's Cup. All Deed-of-Gift races up to this one have been organized by the defending yacht club and the entire Race Committee consisted of members of the defending yacht club. Even when I ran the event in New Zealand, both times, in 2000 and 2003, all officers of the race committee were members of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. We all were members of it and it was obviously not a Deed-of-Gift event.
So, I think it's a fair statement to say that this event will have the most independent body of officials of all Deed-of-Gift races. People should keep that in mind. Don't forget that primarily, a Deed-of-Gift race was not designed to be fair.
Valencia Sailing: Are you a member of the SNG? Is any of the officials member of the SNG?
Harold Bennett: No. I'm a 25-year member of the RNZYS and a life member of the Murrays Bay Sailing Club, both in Auckland. I'm not absolutely sure and you will have to check that, but I'm pretty confident this is the first time ever that the PRO of a Deed-of-Gift race is NOT a member of the defending club.
Valencia Sailing: So, you were hired by SNG to prepare this regatta. Who hired the rest of the team that assists you? Did you?
Harold Bennett: Yes I did. Niccoló Porzio di Camporotondo joined as the Regatta Operations Manager and our team now consists of just seven people working full-time. The same people will then work on the water running the regatta once it starts. Everybody is involved on the water and nobody will be left in the land. We all have a dual role and more than one job to do. For example, I will become the Principal Race Officer and Niccoló Porzio will be the Course Marshall.
Valencia Sailing: Do SNG or Alinghi, its representing team, have a say on how you carry out your job? Do you receive any guidelines from them?
Harold Bennett: No. I discuss with both teams, Alinghi and BMW Oracle, various issues. You can say there is an open line of communication but I receive no orders from anyone. Of course, when you prepare any event whatsoever you have to prepare and present a budget and it's SNG that bears the cost of the race, therefore there is an approval process there but it's purely a financial one.
The reason I ended up being involved in this is purely and simply the fact that these people know I will run the race fair and square, down in the middle. Everything will follow the rules and they will get 110% out of me.
Valencia Sailing: You said you talk to both teams. What's your relation with Brad Butterworth and Russell Coutts?
Harold Bennett: I know them very well, in fact I coached them when they were juniors. I was New Zealand's national coach. They all came through the Youth Program, a lot time ago, nearly 30 years ago. I had Russell in the youth team when he won the youth championship.
Valencia Sailing: So, it's you I should blame for the kiwi dominance in sailing in the late 20th and early 21st century!!
Harold Bennett: [Laughs] That's been said before. I'm responsible for quite some people.
Valencia Sailing: Let's get back to the serious business. How independent are you from Alinghi? Physically speaking we are in a building less than 50 meters from their base right here in Valencia.
Harold Bennett: Well, you've seen it for yourself, we have our own base, our own operations and our own boats. Yes, they are marked SNG, but don't forget that after all that's the yacht club running this regatta. They are the defending club but the rest of us are here to do the jobs we are known to do well. I doubt I would have this job if there was the slightest suggestion I was biased. In fact, I'm certain I wouldn't. First, ISAF wouldn't have appointed me and secondly the teams wouldn't have accepted me. Let me remind you that neither team objected my appointment. We are known be be professionals in our work, we all are from different countries. What else do you want?
Valencia Sailing: Of course, the multi national nature of your team is not put in doubt but I want to be devil's advocate and ask how you can run an event "fair and square" as you mentioned, while ultimately being paid by one of the participating teams?
Harold Bennett: Well, if I run it fair and they don't like it I will get sacked. If SNG thinks I ought to be running this event skewed to them and I don't do that then they can fire me. That's fine. They can then find someone to run a skewed event and hire him. I guarantee it's not going to be me!! In fact, I've been told I have full support from both teams.