Sunday, February 07, 2010
So Tillerman, whatever happens with the racing in Valencia this week, there seems to be a general consensus that, after all the legal battles of the last couple of years, the America's Cup is totally screwed up and a monumental PR disaster for the sport of sailing. Why do you think that is?
Great question Buff. Thank you for asking. In my opinion it all goes back to the Deed of Gift. That's why I'm nominating the Deed of Gift as the worst sailing innovation ever (in that bloggy group hug thing that's going on write now.)
Ummm. Deed of gift? What's that? Some kind of tax dodge?
Not exactly Buff. I need to tell some history to explain it all. In 1851 a schooner called America, owned by a syndicate representing the New York Yacht Club, won a race around the Isle of Wight in England. The trophy they won was a silver bottomless ewer (not a cup).
Six years later in 1857 the surviving members of the syndicate donated the bottomless ewer (not a cup) to the New York Yacht Club. To accompany the bottomless ewer, they wrote a Deed of Gift that specifying that the bottomless ewer should be held in trust as a "challenge" trophy to promote "friendly competition among nations".
You're losing me mate. What does all this have to do with the America's Cup?
Well, Buff, the Deed of Gift said that the bottomless ewer was a "cup" even though it clearly wasn't a cup. And I guess that people started calling it America's Cup after that because the boat called America once won it.
So why is this Deed of Gift thingie the worst sailing innovation ever?
Well, the Deed of Gift set up the holder of the America's Cup (then the New York Yacht Club) as both the defender of the Cup and the body responsible for organizing and running the races for the Cup. It was an unfair competition right from the start.
I guess you are right in theory, but surely those Corinthian type chappies from the NYYC could be relied upon to run fair regattas?
Umm, Buff, have you ever met a sailor from New York?
How do you think the NYYC held on to the America's Cup for 132 years?
They exploited the advantage given to them as both defender and regatta organizer in every way they could. They even persuaded the folks that donated the Cup to them to amend the Deed of Gift a couple of times to make it more to their liking. In 1881 they got the deed amended to prevent those low-class Canadian clubs on the Great Lakes from challenging. And in 1887 they persuaded the sole surviving syndicate member, George Schuyler, to have the deed rewritten in fancy legal language that really tightened up the rules for challengers.
OK. I see. It would have been much better if the America's Cup had been run all along by some independent organization that wasn't biased to one side or the other. Why didn't George Schuyler and his buddies donate the Cup to some setup like that?
Great question Buff. The problem was that in 1857 there wasn't any international yacht racing organization. In fact there weren't any international sporting bodies of any kind. The International Yacht Racing Union wasn't founded until 1907, and the International Olympic Committee was only founded in 1894.
Well couldn't Mr. Schuyler have found some other independent, neutral organization to run the America's Cup?
Great idea Buff. Basically he would have needed to choose a country that wasn't likely ever to be interested in challenging for the cup themselves, probably a land-locked nation, a country respected by all other nations for its neutrality and fairness. Like Switzerland, for example?
Yeah Tillerman. I think we're on to something here. Do you think that the Swiss government would have accepted the responsibility of running the America's Cup?
Probably not Buff. Old George Schulyer would have needed to choose some organization in Switzerland that knew something about sailing.
Was there any such organization in the mid 1800's?
Not as far as I can tell at the time of the first Deed of Gift in 1857. But by the time old George signed the third version of the Deed of Gift in 1887 there was a highly reputable Swiss yacht club that could have taken on the responsibility. It was founded in 1872 by local and foreign members of the upper classes who enjoyed sailing on Lake Léman. In 1876, Baronness of Rotschild registered her steamship "Gitana I" through this club, and in 1907 it was so well respected that it was recognized as the "National Authority for Racing Yachting in Switzerland."
Wow. That's fascinating Tillerman. So what you are basically saying is that George Schuyler should have donated the Cup to this Swiss yacht club and we wouldn't have had any of the controversy and unfairness and legal shenanigans of the last 150 years?
What's the name of this neutral, independent, fair-minded, trustworthy Swiss yacht club?
Société Nautique de Genève.
Are you recording this?