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Lawyer says America’s Cup boat salvage claim is valid

A San Francisco lawyer is defending Todd Tholke’s claim to a $200,000 salvage award after he discovered the French America's Cup World Series racing team's 45-foot catamaran reportedly aground in the middle of the night and returned it to safe harbor.

“I’m really trying to defend Todd’s reputation because it’s really taken a beating,” lawyer John Edgcomb told Soundings Trade Only. “I’m trying to give the perspective that he really does have a valid salvage claim so we can avoid terms like ‘hostage’ and ‘pirate.’ ”

The racing cat, Energy, is now in two containers inside a warehouse leased by the America’s Cup Event Authority, where it has been since Friday night, Edgcomb said. The vessel was “arrested” on the evening of Oct. 7as part of the legal dispute, which calls up a centuries-old maritime law regarding salvage at sea.

Tholke spotted the AC45 catamaran on some rocks Sept. 30 near Treasure Island, a few miles from where the sailboat broke free from its San Francisco mooring as it awaited its next America’s Cup race.

Tholke surprised the sailing community by filing a salvage claim Oct. 4 in U.S. District Court entitling him to an award — $200,000 plus procedural costs incurred.

The lawsuit has drawn ire from the sailing community.

“The exchanges I’ve had with my friends about it — and not only the French — they’re really not printable in any magazine,” San Francisco-based sailor and lawyer Jean-Yves Lendormy told Trade Only.

Edgcomb says he has ignored several calls from the press seeking comment, but wanted an opportunity to give his client’s perspective on a “valid salvage claim.”

“Todd was a volunteer — the vessel was in peril on the rocks and susceptible to wind and wave damage,” Edgcomb told Trade Only. “He was successful. He pulled the vessel off the rocks and pulled it into safe harbor. He has a valid claim, and that gave way to a valid lien. So we were entitled to arrest the vessel.”

Edgcomb and Tholke agreed not to interfere with the America’s Cup World Series races that were occurring Oct. 4-7 in San Francisco to avoid bad publicity, Edgcomb said.

On Oct. 7, about 9 p.m., a U.S. marshal served the arrest warrant for the sailboat “in a low-key manner,” Edgcomb said.

“We didn’t do that to be mean,” Edgcomb said. “They were putting it into containers, and we thought they were going to ship them back to France, and if they did that we would have no legal recourse.”

Edgcomb said he and Tholke agreed to let the containers be stored in a warehouse leased by the event authority, but will consider requesting “a more permanent security system” because the court has had no response from the vessel’s owner or insurance provider.

Read more in the December issue of Soundings.

— Reagan Haynes

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