Nationality debate stirs before America's Cup warmup
SAN DIEGO (AP) America's Cup-related racing comes to Bermuda for the first time this weekend, with two of the highest-profile teams looking to carve out a home-course advantage on the island nation that committed $77 million to host sailing's marquee regatta.
The America's Cup World Series will be sailed Saturday and Sunday, the third in the series of preliminary regattas leading to the America's Cup in 2017.
The top three teams in the standings are Emirates Team New Zealand, the hard-luck loser in the 2013 America's Cup; Land Rover BAR, the British team led by Sir Ben Ainslie; and Oracle Team USA, the two-time America's Cup champion that decided to defend the Auld Mug offshore rather than keep it in San Francisco.
Bermuda is a British overseas territory some 640 miles off North Carolina - and at the northern tip of the mythical Bermuda Triangle.
''We like to say with the America's Cup being in Bermuda, that it's halfway home,'' said Ainslie, who hopes to become the first Englishman to win back the trophy his countrymen lost in 1851. Ainslie was knighted by Queen Elizabeth after winning his fourth straight gold medal at the 2012 London Games. ''We certainly have great ties with Bermuda with its British heritage. They have been incredibly supportive of us. I think Bermuda is as proud of its British heritage as we are from our side.''
Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill, who was Ainslie's boss in the last Cup, thinks otherwise. The syndicate, owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, relocated from San Francisco to Bermuda in May.
''Mate, it's heavily in our favor. We're always the crowd favorites. We're the people's champions. You know why? Because we're here,'' Spithill said in a phone interview. ''We've got our kids in schools integrating into the community. We get around. We get kids into the base. The locals are behind us. We're responsible for bringing it here. They're getting behind us.''
Moving the America's Cup out of home waters is just one area where Oracle continues to buck tradition.
Some in the sailing community were dismayed to see that Oracle's crew for the Bermuda regatta won't have a single American-born sailor, although Louis Sinclair has a U.S. passport. Spithill, an Australian, is married to an American and they have a home in San Diego.
Earlier this month, Ainslie helped elevate the smack talk about the nationality issue.
When Ainslie tweeted about the syndicate's new boat, an American responded that Oracle was better and faster.
Ainslie responded: ''If it's that fast then you should get some real Americans to sail it for you?''
Ainslie said there are nine British and one New Zealander on Land Rover BAR's sailing team.
''It's up to the teams to decide how far they want to push it,'' Ainslie said. ''Obviously with our British team, we're very much about trying to be the best British with our sailing team. ... We push the national card very hard whereas some other teams obviously don't. That's their choice.''
Spithill was quick with a retort.
''Ben goes on about nationality but look at his design team,'' Spithill said. ''It's like a forum for the United Nations?''
''It didn't seem to be an issue for him last time,'' Spithill added.
He was referring to the 2013 regatta, when Oracle fell behind Team New Zealand and Ainslie, then the skipper of the backup boat, replaced American John Kostecki as tactician on the race boat. Oracle staged one of the greatest comebacks in sports, winning the final eight races to retain the America's Cup.
Ainslie then started his British campaign.
Oracle finished the regatta with only one American on the 11-man crew, Rome Kirby.
Spithill has been addressing the nationality issue for a few years now. Rules for the ACWS stipulate at least one crewmember must be a national.
''It's pretty simple,'' Spithill said. ''If the rules are the rules, at the end of the day you want the best guys on the water. We will be doing a rotation in the team.''
Then, he added, ''What is a true American? Does he have to come from an American Indian heritage? I'm just asking the questions.''
Back in San Francisco, David Santori recently resigned as rear commodore of the Golden Gate Yacht Club, the trustee of the America's Cup. Other high-profile members have resigned, unhappy with how the club is handling its responsibilities.
Dick Enersen, a grinder aboard 1964 Cup-winner Constellation, said in his resignation letter that he believes the GGYC ''ceding the entire oversight of the Cup to a commercial interest violated both the letter and intent of the Deed of Gift.''
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson