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Sailing-Australian wine mogul to challenge for America's Cup

By Ronnie Cohen

(Reuters) - An Australian winemaker and his son, who own an island off Australia's Great Barrier Reef, have officially challenged software mogul Larry Ellison's Oracle Team USA for the next America's Cup, a source with knowledge of the situation told Reuters.

Bob Oatley and oldest son Sandy signed the challenge on behalf of their Hamilton Island Yacht Club in Queensland, Australia, the source said.

An employee of the Robert Oatley Vineyards delivered a signed document to a representative of the Golden Gate Yacht Club, Oracle's sponsor, on San Francisco Bay seconds after the winning American team crossed the finish line on Wednesday.

As the challenger of record, the Oatleys could help shape the rules for the 35th America's Cup along with the defender, Ellison. Additional challengers are expected to emerge as the next competition takes shape in the coming years.

Ellison said that he received the challenge on the water as soon as Oracle clinched the Cup, but he declined to name the challenger. Asked to confirm that it was Oatley, Tom Ehman of the Golden Gate Yacht Club refused to comment. "I'll announce early next week, possibly Monday," he said in a text message.

Two sources who requested anonymity confirmed to Reuters that the Hamilton Island Yacht Club is the challenger of record. Oatley could not be reached for comment.

Oatley made a fortune first as a coffee trader and then as a vintner, and bought Hamilton Island in 2003. A long-time competitive sailing enthusiast, he is described on a website for Robert Oatley Vineyards in northern California as being "as famous for his wine as he is for sailing."

A series of his super-maxi yachts, all dubbed Wild Oats, have won multiple times one of the world's most challenging offshore challenges - the Sydney-to-Hobart long-distance ocean race.

A website for Oatley family wines boasts about the latest version of the yacht, Wild Oats XI. Iain Murray, an Australian who served as the regatta director for the just-completed America's Cup races in San Francisco, crews on the boat, the website says.

Forbes ranked Oatley as Australia's 25th richest with just under $1 billion. Ellison is the world's fifth richest man with $43 billion.

An Australian boat sporting an innovative winged keel broke a 132-year U.S. chokehold on the famous sailing trophy in 1983. But the U.S. won it back in 1987 and Australia has not been a player in Cup competitions in recent years despite a strong sailing tradition. The skipper this year's winning Oracle team, Jimmy Spithill, is Australian.

(Editing by Jonathan Weber)

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