Oracle Team USA Director of External Affairs and America’s Cup ‘fixer’ Tom Ehman celebrated the five-year anniversary of Dogzilla’s defeat of Alinghi 90 with a long-secret telling of just what happened on the Race Committee boat during the second race of the 2010 Match. It’s great reading, and a reminder of just how fucked up it is at the very top end of ISAF-derived race management. The full story – with some interesting comments – is on TFE’s Facebook Page here.
In the past five years I’ve said very little — publicly or privately — about the incident that took place on the RC boat before the start of AC33’s second and final race on Valentines Day 2010, five years ago yesterday. For the best-of-three-race Match, I was designated by Larry Ellison to serve as our “race committee boat representative,” which meant going afloat each race day on the RC boat to observe. Before the first race Alinghi tried to keep me off the boat, but I politely persisted; the internationally- and highly-respected Harold Bennett (Auckland, NZL), who had been agreed by both teams as the independent Principal Race Officer, came to my rescue and insisted that, per the mutually-agreed rules, I was permitted onboard. Not the most fun job, especially to be apart from the rest of our support team watching from other boats or at the team base, but one Larry and Russell both thought important. Turned out to be, especially at the start of Race Two….
In addition to Harold, the RC was largely staffed by officials from Alinghi’s yacht club (SNG, Geneva, Switzerland) and led by their Vice Commodore. Race One went off without incident; many of you will recognize the image to the left is a portion of the larger photo of Jimmy Spithill’s famous Race One flying pre-start entry that caught Alinghi flat-footed — seconds after this photo was taken — and resulted in a port-starboard penalty to Alinghi.
Race Day Two dawned light and a bit lumpy. The races were subject to previously-agreed (between the teams) wind and sea limits. We were under postponement for most of the day as the wind was below the limit. Just before the afternoon cutoff time of (if memory serves) 1600, the breeze came up just enough. Accordingly, and properly “H”, as Harold Bennett is known in international sailing circles, tried to get a start sequence underway. However, Alinghi apparently thought the conditions were not favorable to them, so by radio the team ordered the SNG members of the race committee (flag-pullers, timers, etc.) to do whatever they could to stop H from starting the race. Quiet, then quite heated discussions failed to convince Harold to ignore the rules and call racing off for the day, so the SNG personnel went on strike. No joke. They went below and and started having drinks in the cabin of the RC boat.
Not deterred H carried on, and pressed his Spanish boat driver, navigator and communicator into action handling signals on the bow of the RC boat. But he was short one set of hands in the back deck to take down the postponement signal. “Sh*t, f*ck, sh*t, we’ll never get this started,” H famously said. And it was caught on TV tape — yes, I have a copy of the tape — by the on-board television crew. That’s when the GGYC Observer, sitting quietly near H on the upper deck and never one to be shy, suggested he could take down the postponement flag. H shouted (also caught on the TV tape), “Tom, take down that (expletive) postponement flag.” Of course I did, the race got underway just before the 1600 cut-off, and the rest is history. Weeks after the Match it was a pleasant surprise to receive a 4×3 photo of Jimmy’s famous Race One start, signed by Harold and commemorating the Race Two pre-start “strike” and the “scab-labor” that swung into action…