150 Stories #1: Did the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron save the Americas Cup?

By Colin Carran

That would be rather a long bow to draw but without doubt our actions as a club played a critical role in sustaining the Americas Cup event and teams while Oracle and Alinghi spent their time in court arguing over the future of the Cup.

The Louis Vuitton Pacific Series held between January 30th and February 14th 2009 was the initiative of the RNZYS General Committee Major Events and Assets team developing a plan for an event to offer ETNZ and International syndicates an opportunity to maintain their sponsors and teams while bringing a major event to Auckland and New Zealand.

The initiative was also a response to the news that Louis Vuitton with whom we had a long and happy relationship were considering withdrawing from the Americas Cup for good. Our initial plan was for a series of regattas called the “Louis Vuitton Pacific series regattas “between 2008 and 2010. The series was to include a Grade1 Match Racing event, Grade 1 Women’s match racing, ISAF women’s worlds, International Youth regatta and a Classic and tall ships regatta.

Initial discussions with Louis Vuitton indicated their strong support for the idea of a pacific series but to have any marketing value it had to be more International. Discussions were held with Grant Dalton and ETNZ who suggested the concept of a two-boat series with International teams with preference given to previous AC challengers. Grant then took the Squadrons proposal to a meeting of AC syndicates who with the exception of Alinghi supported the idea.

A letter to Louis Vuitton from then Commodore John Crawford dated 13th September 2007 was addressed to long time Squadron supporters Christine Belanger and Bruno Trouble and followed up by a personal visit in Paris to present our proposal to them at the headquarters of Louis Vuitton by the Chairman of the Squadron Major Projects Committee. Our plan was enthusiastically received and a generous sponsorship of the event negotiated.

The organization took some time but in September 2008 Prime Minister Helen Clark announced Government support for a new “high profile” international regatta for Auckland. A new cup was to be created by Louis Vuitton for the event. Associate Finance Minister Trevor Mallard agreed to support the event with a $750,000 contribution, he noted that the 2003 America’s Cup contributed $500 million into the NZ economy. Other supporters and contributors were Auckland City, and Sky Entertainment Group.

The creation of the event was a response initiated by RNZYS to the prolonged legal battle surrounding the 33rd AC which became a deed of gift match without a challenger selection series.

Promoted as a friendly competition the LV Pacific Series was very quickly oversubscribed with entries from;

  1. ETNZ.
  2. Pataugaus K France – Sebastian Cole
  3. BMW Oracle – Russell Coutts
  4. China Team – Jon Williams
  5. Alinghi – Brad Butterworth Ed Baird
  6. Greek Challenge
  7. Team Origin – Ben Ainslie 
  8. Luna Rossa – Peter Holmberg
  9. Damiani Italia – Vascotto Bruni 
  10. Team Shosholoza – Paolo Cian.

A total of 72 short course races were held on NZL 84 and 92. The event was eventually won in emphatic style by ETNZ in a final against Alinghi.

Allinghi only decided to attend after ETNZ agreed to drop a lawsuit against the cup holders, they endeavoured to upset the event at every opportunity, flying a Maori Independence flag on Waitangi Day and by wearing black when sailing against ETNZ. In addition, they refused to race ETNZ in the round robins, to quote Jim Farmer ETNZ legal council “they did not like the fact that we were holding this regatta, we get letters from them threatening to sue us all the time.”.

In contrast at the end Russell Coutts was quoted as saying “It was a fantastic event”.

RNZYS was responsible for a massive logistics effort involving over 100 volunteers on and off the water, the organization which involved ETNZ and Squadron working together to transport the teams during boat changeovers between races to and from holding vessels, the on-water race management was under the control of International PRO Peter Reggio, who was so impressed after the second LVTA with our organization he wrote a report which contained the following extracts.

“While last year’s event was indeed special, this year was even better. The job everyone has done was beyond my highest hopes”.

“Steve Burrett and the Course marshal gang – well done I have never had to worry less about spectators in an event of this size”

“John, Jim and Martin God, I wish I could drag you and your systems around the world with me”

“to Bestie and the boys on Te Kouma ………. Unbelievable!! proud to work with you.”

“The gang on Defiance “great job” Colin can I take your boat with me”

Luigi adds; I saw Commodore Scott Colebrook at the final and was raving about the job you all did, I said you must be very proud he replied “I AM” nothing more needed to be said.

The first Louis Vuitton was such an outstanding success the event was repeated the following year in a modified form called the WSTA Louis Vuitton Word Teams Association.

While it might be a stretch to say RNZYS saved the Americas Cup, we certainly played a key role at a critical time in its turbulent history, we bridged a gap while the holders eventually came to their senses and realised the Cup was bigger than their egos.

We’re creating a living history of club stories for our members – and future generations – to commemorate turning 150 next year!

You can contribute a story on anything, perhaps a memorable race you competed in , a party or event attended, or a historical moment you witnessed, we would like to hear from you!

We hope you’ll get involved through contributing a story to help us continue our great legacy.

For more information or to submit your story, contact: mkhan@rnzys.org.nz 

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