On the day that Russia's illegitimate America's Cup syndicate took delivery on its boat in San Diego, officials for the event's governing body put the legitimate syndicate on notice.
The message: Time is running out, we need an update, and again, we advocate a merger of both syndicates.
In a letter faxed Friday to Oleg Larionov, president of Ocean Racing Club Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Tom Ehman said that Age of Russia, the unrecognized syndicate, already has its crew and its boat in San Diego. With less than three weeks remaining before all challenging yachts must be in San Diego for measuring, what is Red Star '92, the recognized syndicate, thinking?
Ehman, the America's Cup Organizing Committee's executive vice president, said interest in the arrival of Age of Russia's boat and lack of communication with Red Star figured into his decision to fire off the letter to Larionov.
"With the boat coming in and all the interest, I thought I better write and say I haven't heard much from him, while the other group makes steady progress," Ehman said.
The often-encouraged joint Russian venture was repeated in Ehman's letter to Larionov, but Ehman said late Friday afternoon that for the first time since the controversy began over five months ago, the two sides might be willing to talk about a merger.
"Today, for the first time," he said, "I had a discussion with an official with one of the syndicates that they are ready to talk. It's not my job to sort out their problems, but I am pleased to say that after all the 'no merge, no merge,' rhetoric, I think we'll see some level of discussion."
Ehman said it was a Red Star official who called him with talk of a merger, but local Red Star representative Chris Drake said it wasn't he, and Ehman said it wasn't Jenik Radon, a New York-based attorney for Red Star.
"I don't know who he would have talked to," said Drake, who is leaving today for his second visit in less than three weeks to Tallinn, Estonia, where Red Star's boat is under construction.
Meanwhile, Ehman is convinced some reconciliation can be reached between the groups and that Age of Russia syndicate head Vladimir Koulbida has also agreed to talk.
"He went back to Russia (Thursday), to attend to some details, but he said yes, they would talk," Ehman said.
It would be odd, Drake said, for Red Star to be talking merger when it has every intention of delivering its boat to San Diego in time.
According to Drake, the French syndicate has guaranteed a flight for the 24 Red Star crew members, who are waiting for their visas to be approved. The French also have offered the use of their F-1 yacht for training purposes for two weeks in January.
Drake said he expects the crew to arrive before the boat, which should be delivered by an Antonov 124 cargo plane no later than Jan. 10, "or I'll become a citizen of Estonia."
Added Drake: "It depends on what I run into in getting the boat packed up and loaded. It's not like you call UPS and get next-day delivery."
But Ehman said Red Star already has canceled two scheduled visits to Tallinn by official measurers, the last on Dec. 18, and with the challenger trials closing in, time is running out.
"I just talked to the measurers," he said, "but they're saying, 'No, we can't go now.' There's too much work for any of them to leave now."
That would mean measuring the boat when it gets here, but Ehman said that's a risky proposition. "If anything's wrong with the boat, it's difficult to fix on sight," he said.
Drake isn't worried about the boat not meeting proper standards. He saw the boat on his visit two weeks ago and said "the degree of design, engineering and construction going into this vessel, no one has any idea about. I brought stills and videos back, everyone here was disbelieving."
There are 16 to 18 workers from a Siberian firm that builds Russian MIG fighters and rockets assembling the new International America's Cup Class yacht.
"It's technologically upscale, period," Drake said. "I am in awe and amazement. . . . We do have to remember, they did beat us into space."