Appetite for Destruction

When I tell people that the America’s Cup is the most vicious, ruthless, nasty competition in world sport, the images of fabulous boats, shoreside parties and memories of great racing and swashbuckling personalities over the years cloud their response. It all looks so gentlemanly from the outside, so sporting. The politics pales into insignificance, memories are short in the public, but behind the scenes good men get broken, fortunes are wrecked, marriages end, people do strange things.

I call it the ‘Great Game’ but it’s ugly backstage, so ugly that many don’t want it so and a look under the bonnet is a step into a world of high politics, legalese, back-biting and back-stabbing. When an experienced Cup operator opines that ‘the Cup will chew so-and-so up and spit him out’ they mean it. You have to have steel in your veins to operate in this environment.


©ACE / Studio Borlenghi

I’ve seen it myself first hand. I’ve been on the receiving end of all manner of shenanigans. You learn to grow up. Resolve gets instilled and you learn who to trust and get a masters degree in tea-leaf reading and magic-ball gazing. You have to steer near to your own truth and your own observations as the official word is rare and controlled. It’s very dull too. Reporting on the racing is actually the easiest part. Keeping up with the politics in a void filled with disinformation and self-interest is a lifetime’s work. I like operating in the void.

The latest piece of politicking is fascinating. With the venue set to be announced and that venue unlikely to be Auckland, the Great Game goes into over-drive. The notions being challenged are the trusteeship status of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron who are bound to act in the interests of all beneficiary parties – ie all the Challenging yacht clubs (not their sporting teams) – and not just in the interests of Team New Zealand. The RNZYS is not allowed to favour the interests of one party over another and the hawking of the venue to a bidder that will support Team New Zealand is the perception. The reality is different.

And it’s an incredibly dangerous perception and presumption to take to the New York Supreme Court and probably explains why, despite the hugely obvious PR leak, nobody with significant standing has stepped forward to put their name to it. The waters are being tested by media leaks to see the reaction of the RNZYS and TNZ and they are, I understand, more than prepared for this one.


©ACE / Studi Borlenghi

Equally, the status of the Challenger of Record has been questioned and this one is seriously daft and a non-starter. This aired last night on Tom Ehman’s excellent Sailing Illustrated show that you can watch here:



However, I have the following email from a very senior member of the Squadron, one heavily involved in the club’s Cup campaign:

I was watching Tom Ehman this evening and heard him stating on a number of occasions that the Royal Yacht Squadron had ‘abandoned’ Royal Yacht Squadron Racing Limited and set up a new entity called Royal Yacht Squadron Limited shortly before submitting its challenge on March 17th 2021. For the record, this information is incorrect, Royal Yacht Squadron Racing Limited merely changed its name to Royal Yacht Squadron Limited on 24th March – the corporate entity (founded on 21st May 2014), which challenged (unchallenged) for both AC35 and AC36 remains unchanged. All documents relating to the corporate structure of RYS Limited are of course available on the Companies House website: https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/

So that strand is dead. Stone dead. The one remaining challenge is utterly dependent on the New York Yacht Club and its appetite for destruction. That appetite seems rampant and there are members unhappy with the committee’s movements of late – they’ve told me as such in quite forthright emails and texts. The dumping of club member Terry Hutchinson and the American Magic syndicate was seen as harsh by many whilst the submission of a challenge to the RNZYS looked like an obvious sleight on the Royal Yacht Squadron – a club that they’ve been joined at the hip to as pinnacle global yacht clubs for decades. Not the done thing in these circles – smart though as it is.

Equally, the cosying up with the Stars & Stripes team had everyone scratching their heads and the rumours of links with US rappers or a gargantuan deal with Satya Nadella’s Microsoft had many a member spluttering into their Brandy Alexanders in the 44th Street clubhouse. Is the NYYC playing fast and loose with its fabulous members’ goodwill?

Supporting the nascent legal action emanating from Auckland could be Commodore Culver’s last stand or finest moment. Win and somehow become Challenger of Record usurping the Royal Yacht Squadron and slamming the door on Jim Ratcliffe’s billions could be the worst thing ever to happen to the Cup – especially in the current climate – but a coup for the club. Lose the court battle, however, after spending millions and halting the competition for the next two years and the reputation of one of the greatest clubs in the world lays in tatters and causes immeasurable problems for generations to come. The Cup can survive without the New York Yacht Club, they are not Ferrari, but can the club’s standing survive without the Cup?


©ACE / Studio Borlenghi

And I come back to a helicopter perspective. The Cup desperately needs to get racing again. Miring it in legalese and tying it to the New York Supreme Court is a hopeless situation. We’ve just had a marvellous Auckland Cup that captured a new public, largely in lockdown around the world, and the event has a golden opportunity to power into a new era and confirm its place at the apex of our sport.

Legal action looks clumsy and obvious. The younger generations will just turn away and scroll straight on through the America’s Cup. It will take years to get them and the event back on track. The lost years in the Supreme Court will be wasted time for a hill of beans. So it’s a nervy time now. Stick or twist for Commodore Culver and I don’t discount the Italians having a say somewhere in all of this as an interested beneficiary. Perhaps even Alinghi?

The PR is ramping up in New Zealand too with a new Curia Market poll showing that 72% of polled Aucklanders want the defence held there and that’s fair enough but where is the money coming from? Fancy investment banking models are all well and good but sadly that’s not how the Cup works. Cold hard cash, not financial gearing is the only game in town and none of the money men in New Zealand, and there are a lot, have stepped forward so far. A late twist there? Who knows?

Perhaps the ultimate game-play here is that the NYYC is attempting the age old trick of kicking a man when he’s down and forcing the Cup to be defended in Auckland, knowing that the Emirati money won’t support Team New Zealand. Weaken the defenders by limiting the money supply. Suffocate them of financial oxygen. Kill them in the courts and assume a weak defender will be easy prey on the water.

It’s a dangerous game. The Great Game is all on. It’s vicious. It’s nasty. It’s high stakes and everything’s to play for. Tension is rising. Love it.

6 thoughts on “Appetite for Destruction

  1. Happy to see you recovering from C-19, but have you drunk too much poison from the Auld Mug. Slowing down, being deliberate is not a bad thing if it prevents a horrible decision. Thou doest protest too much, I think. Time well spent, traditions upheld, and gamers ADD wrangled could be the best thing. More of something is not necessarily better. Your opinion seems to be to commercialize the competition further, whereas the intent has always been a challenge between parties, with no hope of financial gain – to advertise a nation’s technical superiority, a space race of sorts.. Let the Gentlemen have their sport. If you want to watch stock car racing or formula one, there’s alway Sail GP and a bevy of other professional events. This is bigger than filthy lucre, it egos going to battle. Let the games begin, it’s the hardest contest to win for good reasons.

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  2. I read in “Upset!” that when Australia II won, members of the NYYC (who realized they had never actually made a formal
    plan for what to do if they lost) tried to drink out of the America’s Cup one last time, only for the champagne to end up on the carpet because, unbeknownst to them, the Cup’s base had been removed. And that just seemed like such a perfect metaphor and microcosm of the AC as a whole— despite all of the elegant appearances, in the end they were never really as in-control or on-top of things as they seemed, and the reality was disorganized, messy, and faintly pathetic. Because, in the end… the Cup was hollow with no foundation.

    And certainly some of the appeal is that sense of frustrating brokenness, that it COULD be so much better than it is and that if only YOUR favorite syndicate were in charge, they could fix everything. I think there absolutely is the possibility for reform in the America’s Cup and for it to become better and there are several proposals that could make it such… but for now, the reality is that ugly, messy, disorganized situation.

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  3. Looking at the last annual accounts of RYSL dated 31 Oct 2021 – no flag officers, no employees, no vessels, no physical assets, a mere GBP22k in the bank . What part of “organised yacht club” does RYSL fulfil? It will be measured at the time of its challenge – 17 March 2021. You need to read what Larry & Co and the NY courts said about CNEV not too long ago. The biggest America’s Cup cock up since the RYS 1851 “All Nations Race” Sailing Instructions.

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    1. The Mercury Bay court never considered how “organized” a club must be in order to be a Deed-complaint “yacht club’ because other, easier facts — namely that CNEV had never held an annual regatta — resolved the issue. Nonetheless, and materially unlike CNEV which was created days before issuing a challenge, RYSL has been around since 2014 and actually organized and held regattas. The public filings confirm the club has directors. I’m not sure what else you want. The chance of a court invalidating RYSL as challenger rounds to zero.

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  4. You should go back and re-read the Mercury Bay opinion. The duties of the Defender are not as broad as you suggest — not even close. More specifically, the Defender is allowed to be self-interested and work as hard as the Defender can within the rules to win the match. Moreover, the Defender only owes limited duties to the Challenger of Record, and under the Deed owes duties to no other party. Those other challengers only get in the game through The Protocol.

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