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British offer to help settle America's Cup dispute

The British, who have always come up empty in the 157-year history of the America's Cup, have offered to try to help settle a contentious legal battle between Swiss and American groups that has stalled the event.

Sir Keith Mills, the leader of the TeamOrigin syndicate, has suggested that the Royal Thames Yacht Club or another neutral yacht club serve as Challenger of Record as a way to end the spat between two-time defending America's Cup champion Alinghi of Switzerland and BMW Oracle Racing, which is backed by Silicon Valley magnate Larry Ellison.

"If they both want a fair competition, this is a great way of resolving it, I think," Mills said by phone Monday from Cowes on England's Isle Wight, where in 1851 the schooner America beat a fleet of British ships to give the America's Cup its start.

Alinghi and BMW Oracle Racing have been in court for a year squabbling over which yacht club is eligible to serve as Challenger of Record, which gives it the right to negotiate with Alinghi the rules of the next multichallenger America's Cup.

After successfully defending the Cup against Team New Zealand in July 2007, Alinghi, owned by Swiss biotech tycoon Ernesto Bertarelli, chose Spain's Club Nautico Espanol de Vela as Challenger of Record. Golden Gate Yacht Club, which backs BMW Oracle Racing, issued a challenge and then sued in a New York Court, saying the Spanish club was a sham and that the Swiss were trying to tilt the rules for the next regatta in their favor.

A New York judge earlier this year agreed with GGYC, making it the Challenger of Record. Unable to agree to rules for a multichallenger regatta, Alinghi and BMW Oracle appeared headed for a rare one-on-one showdown in 90-foot multihulls.

But Alinghi's backing club, Societe Nautique de Geneve, appealed, and on Tuesday the New York Supreme Court's Appellate Division ruled 3-2 that Club Nautico Espanol de Vela should be the Challenger of Record.

GGYC filed a last-chance appeal Friday with the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany.

Mills spoke with Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth last weekend during a regatta at Cowes.

"Both sides, it seems to me, need to show some statesmanship, some leadership," Mills said. "Both are leading teams in the sport, and I think the time's come where they both need to give way. If Ernesto Bertarelli can be persuaded to ask CNEV to step down and Larry and Russell (Coutts) ask GGYC to step down, effectively both give up their positions, then there's a good chance they can agree."

Coutts, a three-time America's Cup winner -- including in 2003 with Alinghi -- is BMW Oracle Racing's skipper.

Mills said the Royal Thames Yacht Club wouldn't necessarily have to be Challenger of Record, as long as the role is filled by a neutral club.

"Somebody's got to bring this back down to earth," Mills said. "It's gotten out of hand. We think the time has come where both sides need to figure out what is best for the America's Cup."

Even so, Mills doesn't see how a traditional multichallenger regatta could take place before 2011. If a one-on-on showdown were to go on, it would probably be 2013 before a traditional Cup could be held.

"If it's delayed until 2013, a lot of people will lose the will to live," Mills said. "That's just too long."

Butterworth, speaking from Geneva, said the legal fight could consume as much time as a normal America's Cup cycle would.

Butterworth said GGYC's contentions that Alinghi is trying to tilt the rules are "tired excuses. I think it would be a good idea if Oracle did withdraw their appeal to get behind the guys at Origin. I just think it's a great opportunity to get the thing back sailing under the multichallenger format rather than have a dog match between two teams who are looking for the same thing."

GGYC agreed only to a point.

"Sure, we think that we should be able to find some solution," Coutts said. "The problem is we've got to resolve the legal thing properly. That's a long-term effect for the Cup."

Coutts said GGYC is disappointed with the way the Appellate Division interpreted the Deed of Gift, the century-old document that governs the Cup, in siding with Alinghi.

"It's one thing to solve the current situation but it's not a simple quick fix. It doesn't solve the interpretation of the Deed," said Coutts, who has been in Washington state inspecting the syndicate's multihull boat.

GGYC is open to solving the dispute, spokesman Tom Ehman said. "The fact, however, remains that we are not going to go back into a negotiation where Alinghi controls everything."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-08-04-08 1634EDT