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French team will fight salvage claim on Cup cat

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

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