Bermuda awarded warmup regatta; is America's Cup next?

Ben Margot/AP file photoDefending America's Cup champion Oracle Team USA

Ben Margot/AP file photoDefending America's Cup champion Oracle Team USA

SAN DIEGO — There will be some form of America's Cup racing in Bermuda in coming years.

Whether it's the America's Cup match itself remains to be seen.

Bermuda has been awarded a stop on the America's Cup World Series circuit in 2015. Notwithstanding the fact that the island forms the northern corner of the Bermuda Triangle, Wednesday's announcement raised some intrigue in sailing's marquee competition: Is it a precursor that the America's Cup match will be sailed in Bermuda in 2017, or is it a consolation prize?

Bermuda, a British territory, is bidding against San Diego, a three-time America's Cup host, to hold the challenger finals and America's Cup match in 2017.

America's Cup czar Russell Coutts continues to evaluate the bids. It's believed Coutts will make a recommendation to his boss, software billionaire Larry Ellison, who will then decide between San Diego and Bermuda.

Coutts is both director of the America's Cup Event Authority and CEO of two-time America's Cup champion Oracle Team USA, which is owned by Ellison. Coutts and Ellison hold two of the three Oracle-connected spots on the five-member America's Cup committee of the Golden Gate Yacht Club, the Cup's trustee.

A decision is expected by Dec. 1. Challengers are eager to find out the venue so they can finalize sponsorship deals.

If Ellison picks Bermuda, it would be the first time a defender sailed the races in foreign waters by choice rather than necessity. In 2007 and 2010, Alinghi of Switzerland held the America's Cup in Valencia, Spain, because it wasn't practical to race on Lake Geneva.

Perhaps adding to the intrigue is the “for rent” sign that popped up on the lawn of Coutts' home in Coronado across the bay from downtown San Diego. According to the fine print, though, it's only the lower level of the two-level house that's available.

Coutts skippered Team New Zealand to a five-race sweep of Dennis Conner off San Diego in 1995.

Coutts pulled the America's Cup from San Francisco. The New Zealander was unhappy that San Francisco was unwilling to give cup organizers the same terms as last time, which included free use of piers and city services.

Oracle Team USA staged one of the greatest comebacks in sports on San Francisco Bay in September 2013, winning eight straight races to beat Emirates Team New Zealand and retain the oldest trophy in international sports.

The Bermuda ACWS stop is the first to be announced.

Harvey Schiller, the former USOC executive director who is the commercial commissioner of the America's Cup, said officials could soon announce stops in Italy, England, Sweden and New Zealand. He said every team will eventually host a stop. Only five challengers have signed up. There have been indications a sixth team will enter but officials won't say which country it's from.

British Olympic star Ben Ainslie, who heads his country's America's Cup syndicate, is expected to soon announce an ACWS stop in Portsmouth in 2015.

Asked where Oracle Team USA might host an ACWS stop, Schiller said pretty much every city that was on the original list to host the 2017 America's Cup has called. Among those cities is Chicago, which outlasted San Francisco in the bidding process.

Schiller said San Diego is not in the running for an ACWS stop, even if it wins the bidding to host the America's Cup match.

The ACWS is a series of warmup regattas in high-performance, 45-foot catamarans in 2015-16 that will help determine standings for the America's Cup qualifiers in 2017, which will be sailed in 62-foot catamarans.

Asked if a decision on the final venue was close, Schiller said there are still “a few more things” organizers are working on and that Bermuda and San Diego appeared “pretty even right now.”

America’s CupOracle Team USASan Francisco

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