Cat Spat on Lake Geneva

Here’s a story which we haven’t seen anywhere else…
trivial, bitchy, immature schoolboy stuff. Why would a sponsor want to touch a sport like this? Some of these people need to think about the wider implications of their actions.


by Peter Capella in
Lausanne – 27 February 2008 | 11:31

“Decision 35” catamaran racing on Lake Geneva was already one of Alinghi owner Ernesto Bertarelli’s favourites, since he helped create the sailing class. One of his rivals in D35 racing for three years, the Banque Gonet team, was skippered by three times America’s Cup winner Russell Coutts, who became BMW Oracle’s skipper in 2007. Gonet had teamed him with crewmates from the former US America’s Cup challenger for the upcoming season of lake racing, but that bid has now come to an abrupt halt.

With Bertarelli and BMW Oracle’s owner, computer billionaire Larry Ellison, locked in a bruising court battle in New York over the future of the America’s Cup, most of the owners of the D35 class – mainly sailing clubs and their sponsors from the lakeside area – objected to the move during a meeting last Friday. They felt it contravened the spirit of the competition founded in 2003.

Banque Gonet – which was also one of the founder members of D35 racing – announced in a statement on Monday that it had decided to pull out of the championship. The team said the competition “no longer upholds the values that it always supported.”

Coutts – who guided Alinghi to its first America’s Cup title in 2003 – has effectively been sidelined from racing on Lake Geneva, despite being an accepted part of the local racing scene for several years. He declined to talk about the spat on Tuesday, spokesman Bernard Schopfer told Swisster. “He has other priorities and he doesn’t want to waste his energy on something that is now past,” Schopfer said. BMW Oracle is expecting a final court decision of the future course of the stalled America’s Cup soon, Schopfer said.

The Tribune de Genève reported that Bertarelli had sought to keep Banque Gonet in D35, but he had also criticised an attempt to bring in a team that was engaged in litigation against the America’s Cup holders.

The head of one of the local racing associations, Nicolas Grange, said the owners objected to being dragged into the conflict. “We weren’t opposed to having Coutts sailing a catamaran, but not under the banner of BMW Oracle,” he said.

The gentlemanly climate of enthusiasts’ racing on Lake Geneva has soured according to many observers. Meanwhile, the New York court could oblige Alinghi to accept a more costly, one-off, duel with BMW Oracle in far larger catamarans – but on the high seas.