The America's Cup won't be sailed in the Middle East, after all.
Ras al-Khaimah, United Arab Emirates, cannot host the contentious showdown between American and Swiss crews based on the 19th-century document that governs sailing's marquee regatta, a New York judge ruled Tuesday.
The decision by Justice Shirley Kornreich of the New York State Supreme Court is a blow to two-time defending champion Alinghi of Switzerland, which picked the little-known Persian Gulf port for its February match against American challenger BMW Oracle Racing.
Kornreich said her decision was based on the stipulation in the 1887 Deed of Gift that the America's Cup cannot be sailed in the Northern Hemisphere between Nov. 1 and May 1, not on concerns by the Americans that RAK was unsafe due to its proximity to Iran.
"I don't believe that I have the ability to deviate from the Deed of Gift," Kornreich said.
The rare one-on-one showdown in massive multihulled boats now appears headed to Valencia, Spain, unless the bitter rivals can agree on another port that complies with the Deed of Gift. In that case, it would have to be in the Southern Hemisphere.
Although Valencia is in the Northern Hemisphere, neither side objected earlier in the court fight to holding the best-of-three series in the Spanish port. Valencia hosted the 2007 America's Cup.
Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth said the ruling was "disappointing for the UAE as the venue really lends itself to sailing these boats. Now none of this has anything to do with racing boats so I will wait and see what legal move is next."
Kornreich said she ruled from the bench Tuesday to give Alinghi's backing yacht club, Societe Nautique de Geneve (SNG), time to appeal if it choses. It wasn't immediately clear if the Swiss would do so.
The best-of-three series is scheduled to begin Feb. 8.
"Your honor, you're canceling the America's Cup," said attorney Barry Ostrager, who represents SNG.
"This is sort of a cataclysmic decision that you're making," he added, warning of "colossal harm to the sport, the event, to RAK and the America's Cup."
He later softened the "canceling" remark, saying the next step was for SNG to determine whether it's possible to stage the race in February.
Alinghi has been sailing its 90-foot catamaran, Alinghi 5, in RAK for more than a week. BMW Oracle Racing's 90-foot trimaran, which will be named USA, has been undergoing testing in San Diego since last fall. The space age-looking craft is back in the water after undergoing extensive modifications.
David Boies, an attorney for Golden Gate Yacht Club, which backs BMW Oracle Racing, said the upheaval "doesn't have to be cataclysmic." Valencia is ready to host the race, he said.
Kornreich acknowledged time was growing short: "I think that the race is being endangered," she said.
The Swiss picked RAK based on an earlier order by a now-retired judge that they could sail the match in Valencia or "any other location selected by SNG." The Americans fought the choice based on the Deed of Gift, arguing in one court document that RAK was no more eligible to host the America's Cup than the Colorado River or Walden Pond would be.
Alinghi's choice of RAK has been the most contentious issue in a convoluted, two-year court fight between Silicon Valley maverick Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp., who owns BMW Oracle Racing, and his one-time friend, Swiss biotech mogul Ernesto Bertarelli, who owns Alinghi.
Soon after the Swiss picked RAK in early August, Ellison raised concerns because the sailing would take place some 80 miles from Iran's coastline.
The choice of RAK piqued interest outside sailing circles.
Rep. Edward Royce, R-Calif., recently sent a letter to Daniel Benjamin, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, asking for an assessment of security at the race site. He also asked what U.S. government resources, if any, will be committed to the event.
Royce is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade.