The Luna Rossa in San Francisco Bay (photo: Eric Risberg, Associated Press)
The 163-year-old America’s Cup, the world’s premier yacht racing event, hosted this year by the city of San Francisco, was already careening wildly toward the starting line before the San Jose Mercury News pronounced the opening weekend “a fiasco.”
In fact, it was already being called “a fiasco” back in February by San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos, when he denounced the Cup’s organizing committee for too few entrants and not enough fundraising. Some were predicting the city could lose $20 million.
Back then, they were hoping for as many as a dozen international challengers to compete for the Louis Vuitton Cup in a series of races, beginning July 7, and the right to challenge America’s Cup defender Oracle Team USA in September. The Oracle crew is led by billionaire tech tycoon Larry Ellison.
The committee only got three challengers and one of them, Sweden’s Artemis Racing, suffered a blow when one of two catamarans the team was testing capsized in May, killing crewmember Andrew “Bart” Simpson and wrecking the boat.
One of the challengers, Italy’s Luna Rossa Challenge, skipped the first race on Sunday in protest of a rule change ostensibly made for safety reasons after the Artemis accident. The Luna Rossa contingent, which is backed by Prada fashion billionaire Patrizio Bertelli, claimed that the rule changes were unnecessary and designed to favor Oracle Team USA. Emirates Team New Zealand, the third challenger, agreed with Luna Rossa.
In the ensuing spat, Oracle Team USA CEO Russell Coutts called Luna Rossa “a bunch of spoiled little rich kids dressed in Prada,” according to the Mercury News. Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena responded, “He can say what he wants. He’s way more rich than me, trust me.”
Oracle Team sponsor Ellison is 5th on the Forbes list of billionaires, with a net worth of $43 billion, while Luna Rossa leader Bertelli is 175th with $6.7 billion. Sirena and Coutts did not make the list.