French team will fight salvage claim on Cup cat

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The French team in the America’s Cup World Series says it “will be responding shortly” to a $200,000 salvage claim filed by a man who recovered their 45-foot catamaran after it broke free from its mooring at a San Francisco pier and drifted away, invoking maritime law dating from the 1800s.

An attorney representing the team and their AC45, Energy, says he is carefully gathering evidence to make his case against the claim filed on behalf of Todd Tholke, a liveaboard and Bay area musician.

“For the people in the boating community and the people in the Bay Area, who are very generous and neighborly, it’s just a big black eye,” Energy team attorney Noah Hagey told Soundings Trade Only.

Hagey released a statement from the Energy team expressing gratitude to the city of San Francisco and its Port Authority for hosting the America’s Cup race and the team.

“We are surprised and disappointed by the plaintiff’s legal actions, which lack merit under maritime law,” the Energy team said in a statement. “The lawsuit also is contrary to the spirit of the people of San Francisco, who have been so supportive of the team and the Cup competition. We look forward to addressing plaintiff’s case and will be responding shortly.”

A San Francisco-based lawyer and sailor who has worked with the French team, though not on this issue, says the group won’t be able to participate in next year’s America’s Cup regatta because it lacks the sponsorship required to build the new 72-foot catamarans being used in the 2013 competition.

“That’s why they’re not here next year. They don’t have a sponsor,” Jean-Yves Lendormy told Soundings Trade Only. “This year they only had one sponsor, you can see that on their sail, and it’s a little sponsor. It is a Swiss watchmaker. It’s not like the British team with J.P. Morgan.”

Lendormy said he had worked with the French team on a fundraiser they held that was designed to raise money to help youths who might not otherwise be exposed to sailing to participate in the sport.

“The United States has this reputation for being a very litigious country, and here you have this wonderful event in the America’s Cup World Series that’s possible for even a team with modest means to participate, like the French team, and everyone is absolutely wonderful,” Lendormy said. “And all of a sudden it’s marred by the acts of one person.”

Even if the team is strapped for cash, the vessel’s insurance provider should pay the salvage claim, says John Edgcomb, Tholke’s attorney.

“It’s hard to imagine an America’s Cup racing team is ‘broke’, but it’s irrelevant because they should have insurance,” Edgcomb told Trade Only.

Read more in December’s Soundings Trade Only.

— Reagan Haynes


4 comments on “French team will fight salvage claim on Cup cat

  1. Mike A

    The French team should be grateful that Mr. Tholke risked his life and property to salvage their boat.

    Salvage laws are in place to encourage such actions.

    How much would it have cost them to replace the boat had he not been there to rescue it?

    Stop Whining!

  2. Captain Joei

    If you are in US waters, and hold a current “Tow Assist” Certificate, you are entitled to subit a bill and be paid. U.S.C.G. “Rules of the Road” state that if you can assist in such cases…YOU MUST.

  3. Mike A

    Excuse me Capt Joei, The rule actually is:

    “Federal statute, 46 USC 2304 requires a master to render assistance IF the master can do so without serious danger to master’s vessel or individuals on board.”

    My understanding is; the savage was in the middle of the night near rocks and there were no lives at risk on the French vessel. Mr. Tholke decided to put his life at and property at risk. He did not have to!

    It sounds like he is entitled to compensation under international rules.

    This is not an American thing; salvage rules are made by the IMO which France has been a member since 1952.

    By the way I am not a lawyer, anyway involved in the America’s cup or Mr. Tholke. I am just a retired captain with over 400,000 sea miles that has been involved in several such incidents. Once even my vessel was salvaged and the insurance company had to pay $1,000,000 to get it released. I wasn’t happy but that’s how it was.

    I have also assisted several sail boaters where lives were at risk and in those cases I never made a salvage claim. However, I did make a salvage claim for a 55’ sailing yacht off Mustique that was not tied off properly to its mooring during a storm in a storm.

    It was quite an adventure we had to launch an 18’ tender, a crewman had to board the vessel in heavy seas and tow it to port. Many things could have gone wrong. I image that it might have been nerve wracking for Mr. Tholke too in his little 13’ dingy.

    I only spoke up because I don’t like that he is made a villain by people that have no clue about IMO rules and don’t know what he went through to rescue the boat. Without such knowledge it is just slanderous.

    If the French crew did not have proper insurance they should not be on the water.

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