Sailing: America's Cup ready to hit high seas after court battles
The America's Cup is the pinnacle of world sailing. Yet, alas and woe unto us all if we think that our beloved sport should slot neatly into life's pattern of everyday activities.
Even if we accept that sailing as a sport is simply crazy and getting crazier, then the story of the America's Cup is right on target with its superstar characters, ludicrous sums of money, festivals of litigation and completely off-the-wall boats.
It started as a neat little race round the Isle of Wight which was won by the visiting schooner America in 1851. But before 1900, its defence by the New York Yacht Club was wracked with rows -- and the Irish were in the thick of it. The 1893 and 1895 challenger Lord Dunraven (aka Tommy Quin of Adare, Co Limerick) got into disputes with the defenders and was expelled from his Honorary Membership of the New York YC.
Challenging was then taken up by Thomas Lipton, who was a Monaghan man. But he never won the thing, in fact the Americans hung onto it against ever more determined assaults until the Australians took it away in 1983.
Since then, it has become truly international, but its workings depend on decisions by the Supreme Court of New York, for it's in New York that the Deed of Gift provided by the original owners of America is registered.
So, since Switzerland's Ernesto Bertarelli retained the trophy in July 2007 off Valencia in Spain, the scene has shifted to the Big Apple and endless litigation by Larry Ellison of California to dispute everything the Swiss do -- even though an Ellison boat never actually got as far as the final in any previous series.
The word is that the legal niceties have cost around €35m in all. Ellison could easily scrape together €27bn for a rainy day, so it's peanuts for him, but tougher for Bertarelli, as his piggy bank would only have about €7bn. The bickering has dragged on, but decisions have emerged and it looks like the judges of New York are having the last laugh, as defender and challenger -- Switzerland versus America, or Geneva against California if you prefer -- are set to race their two ginormous multihulls off Valencia next week.
Valencia in the second week of February is not at its most clement and the giant multihulls, which have somehow been extrapolated by the sea lawyers from the judgements, are right at the edge of technology. They'll either go very fast indeed or break up. Possibly both.
However, as the International Sailing Federation is now on the case, with its official jury deciding on rule interpretations on site, it really does look as though the two machines will come head-to-head on Monday.
That's when it really will get interesting, for they're 90ft multihulls of two different types. Ellison's BMW Oracle is a trimaran with one larger central hull and a float either side, while Bertarelli's Alinghi is a catamaran -- two matching hulls.
The reckoning is that the Ellison boat should be quicker in light airs and more manoeuvrable, while the Bertarelli boat will be a rocket ship in a breeze, but slower to turn. The fun starts on Monday, and the first to win twice (race two is scheduled for Wednesday) is the latest holder of the supreme trophy of sailing.