Venue spat headed back to court

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SAN DIEGO --- With just more than two months to go before the America's Cup is scheduled to start, American challenger BMW Oracle Racing will wrap up sea trials at the end of this week and prepare to ship its monster trimaran overseas.

One rather large detail remains unsettled. The Americans don't know whether Valencia, Spain, or Ras al-Khaimah, United Arab Emirates, will be the final port of call for the 90-by-90-foot craft, which features an enormous wing sail and is believed to have sailed at three times the speed of the wind.

That's because a long, twisting court fight between bickering billionaires isn't quite finished.

BMW Oracle Racing and its bitter rival, two-time defending champion Alinghi, of Switzerland, are scheduled to present oral arguments today before the New York Supreme Court's Appellate Division. The Swiss are appealing a lower court's ruling on Oct. 27 that Ras al-Khaimah is ineligible to host the best-of-three showdown beginning Feb. 8.

Although the Swiss announced two weeks ago that they're preparing to race in Valencia, they haven't given up hope of racing in RAK. They say in court documents that they'll defend the Cup on the Persian Gulf if they win the appeal.

A ruling from the bench seems unlikely. The teams are hoping for a decision within the next week or two so they can firm up plans for what could be the most extreme racing in the 158-year history of the America's Cup.

Alinghi's 90-foot catamaran, Alinghi 5, has been in RAK since late September.

Depending on how the court rules, there could be further appeals. The Americans believe that a 4-1 or 5-0 decision in their favor would almost certainly end the venue spat.

The landlocked Swiss argue that they're entitled to sail in RAK based on a previous ruling by a now-retired justice.

The Americans believe Valencia is the proper venue, and were successful in getting New York Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich to declare that RAK does not comply with the 19th-century Deed of Gift that governs the America's Cup.

This will be the second time the convoluted fight between American software mogul Larry Ellison and Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli has been before the Appellate Division.

In July 2008, the court sided 3-2 with the Swiss that a Spanish yacht club, not BMW Oracle Racing's sponsoring club, Golden Gate, was the Challenger of Record. That decision was overturned in April in a unanimous decision by New York's top court, sending the powerhouse sailing teams on course for a rare head-to-head showdown for the oldest trophy in international sports.

The panel will also hear Alinghi's appeal of Kornreich's decision that rudders will be excluded when the boats' load waterlines are measured. That, too, was a victory for the Americans.

BMW Oracle Racing's trimaran, known as BOR 90 and soon to be renamed USA, has become quite the attraction on San Diego's waterfront.

The wing sail, added two weeks ago, towers 190 feet above deck and is about 47 feet longer than the wing on an Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger airliner.

The crew sometimes trains on San Diego Bay rather than going out on the Pacific Ocean. The craft accelerates quicker and handles more efficiently with the wing sail than it did when it had a traditional soft sail rig.


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