Battle of the riches on San Francisco Bay

I hear sailors talking

This year’s America’s Cup will be raced by lightweight catamarans that can skim the water at 50 mph.
  • This year’s America’s Cup will be raced by lightweight catamarans that can skim the water at 50 mph.

Sporting Box, February 8, 2010: “I can’t think of another sport that has ripped itself into fish bait the way the America’s Cup has.... Hard to keep track of the race after 2½ years’ worth of lawsuits. This is what happens when it gets personal between [according to Forbes Magazine], the fourth richest man in the world and the 52nd richest man in the world.

“The fourth richest [Larry Ellison] has spent at least $400 million of his dollars over 10 years trying to win the Cup. Yet, it was the 52nd richest person in the world [Ernesto Bertarelli] who won the America’s Cup in 2003 and defended it successfully in 2007.

“The fourth richest man in the world has filed at least nine lawsuits against the 52nd richest man in the world. The latest one was heard in the New York Supreme Court three weeks ago. Fourth Richest claimed 52nd Richest has an illegal boat, because its sails were not constructed in the land-locked country of Switzerland, home of the defending yacht club. The 52nd Richest replied that a proper interpretation of the Cup’s governing document would reveal that only the ‘yacht or vessel’ had to be constructed in the country of the club holding the Cup, and that sails could be constructed anywhere.”

Happily, More Money won the cup, proving that the fourth richest man in the world is, by every measure, a better human being than that sleazy second-rater, otherwise known as the 52nd richest man in the world. So, let’s clap our hands for Larry Ellison’s team, BMW Oracle Racing, who won the America’s Cup in 2010 and will be defending in San Francisco Bay come September.

Stunning, how quickly everything changes. The 2010 fourth richest man in the world, our homeboy, Larry Ellison, is now the fifth richest man in the world. That’s got to hurt. The then-52nd richest man in the world, Ernesto Bertarelli, is now the 94th richest man in the world. That’s got to be humiliating. Bertarelli won’t compete this go-round. Perhaps it’s shame, perhaps he’s weary of listening to construction workers jeer, “How do you like 94th place, asshole?” Who knows... Claiming his spot, this year’s presumed finalist, in the blue corner, owner of the Luna Rossa Italian sailing team, weighing in at $6.7 billion, introducing, Patrizio “The Italian Grommet” Bertelli, the 175th richest man in the world.

I know, this is a major comedown for the entire America’s Cup challenger section. Face it, 175th place is Triple A ball. However, Bertelli’s landing in 175th place is partially offset due to extenuating circumstances. The judges have ruled that since Bertelli is married to Miuccia Prada, who is the 78th richest person in the world, and since California is a community-property state, the panel will grant an exception to Mr. Prada-Bertelli and count him among the top 100 richest persons in the world. For this one time.

There are only three teams competing for the right to race BMW Oracle: Swedish-based Artemis, Emirates Team New Zealand, and Italy’s Luna Rossa. It is not yet clear if all three teams will show up for the challenger series, which runs from July 4 to August 30.

Everything seemed so much brighter last summer when organizers thought there would be a dozen challenger teams and money would flow like a Wall Street bailout. The America’s Cup winner gets to set the venue and ground rules for the next America’s Cup. So, Ellison Inc. mandated ultra-lightweight catamarans with hydrofoils and solid wing sails. The boats are huge. The mast is 13 stories tall, with a wing sail of 130 feet. The beast is capable of skimming over the water at 50 mph.

The idea was to make America’s Cup mainstream. Think super-extreme racing. Think television. Think MONEY FAME MONEY FAME. America’s Cup CEO Stephen Barclay told Business Week, “In recent years, we’ve wanted to put the Cup on a sounder financial footing and make it accessible to people other than the very, very wealthy. To do that, we needed to bring the race in from ten miles offshore to where people can see it. For the sake of television, the races had to start on time. You can’t have this huge buildup to a race and then have the television saying, ‘Delayed due to lack of wind,’ which is a huge problem in sailing.

“The answer to these issues was to use a catamaran instead of the monohull boats we’ve traditionally used in the Cup. Catamarans are very fast, can sail in very light or strong winds, and get so close to the shore that fans can hear the sailors talking.”


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Well done keeping track of the hierarchy of Richie Riches. I thought you'd never get around to the death-part -- which is what happened to one crewmember a week or so ago when his gigantic Catamaran capsized and he drowned in the briny deep of San Francisco Bay underneath the massive expanse of sail and deck. A brilliant column, Patrick.

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