America's Cup go-ahead but rules rows continue in wake of safety concerns

 

With dispute still raging fiercely over late changes to design specifications, and with less than a week to go until the start of the America’s Cup summer of sailing, the United States Coast Guard’s necessary permit to race on San Francisco Bay has been issued.

A formal protest has been lodged by Emirates Team New Zealand over the railroading of design changes which the race director Iain Murray says are solely in the interests of improved safety following the death in a training accident of British Olympic gold medallist Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson on the Swedish challenger Artemis.

Murray assembled a committee to review safety on the hugely powerful 72-foot wing sail catamarans stipulated by the cup holder and defender Oracle Racing Team USA. Though the cup is nominally held by the Golden Gate Yacht Club, ORTRUSA backer, computer software multi-billionaire Larry Ellison has financed all the infrastructure to manage the staging of the cup defence.

But there has also been an insistence that the two executive arms, the America’s Cup Event Authority and Murray’s America’s Cup Race Management, are independent. It was ACRM that issued 37 recommendations which, it said, had been attached to the application for an event permit and which were seen as a prerequisite to the permit being issued.

Under USCG rules, and with the involvement of the San Francisco Captain of the Port’s office, applicants for event permits are required to submit everything by at the least 135 days before an event is to be staged.

Sticking points for ETNZ and fellow challenger Luna Rossa, carrying the Italian colours of luxury goods house Prada, are three of the 37 which mean that the design parameters issued by Oracle to potential challengers nearly three years ago have been changed with days to go while the defender does not have to appear on the race track in anger until 7 September.

They include changes to the rudder design, which will add drag, and an increase to the minimum weight of the boat by 100kg (220lbs). Part of the research, design, engineering, and build work long done is thereby negated and some expensive, painstaking search for advantage wasted.

The need to make the boats heavier has not been explained; the change to the rudder design is said to increase stability as the boats skim over the water on foils, though it appears that ETNZ and LR have successfully solved that test by their own efforts.

The moves are puzzling a sailing public that is about as trusting of America’s Cup organisations as it is of politicians and sceptical of an event mired in legal battles and a reputation for “jimmying” the rules. Even more bizarre is that racing will already have begun before a five-person international jury, chaired by the Australian Dave Tillett and containing two British members, Bryan Willis and John Doerr, meets to consider ETNZ’s complaint that Murray has exceeded his powers by changing the fundamental structure of the game.

Other top experts and jurors have said they would be loathe to interfere in the laid down provisions of an event protocol or the technical rules governing the design of any class of racing yachts.

Nor will the Swedish challenger be ready on time to start racing in the Louis Vuitton Cup trials to find a sole challenger but will be allowed to join in if and when its replacement boat, due to be launched in about a week, comes through all its sea and safety trials successfully.

While the saga continues, many local businesses who have invested in the promise of a financial bonanza outlined in a hugely optimistic economic impact forecast are looking forward to relatively lean times and the promised worldwide television audience will only be able to see some very fast boats in a slowly unfolding event, assuming none of the three challengers incur further debilitating damage.

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