Judge okays engines on Cup boats

In a departure from nautical tradition, a New York judge ruled today that it is OK for the giant multihulls that will sail for the America's Cup next year to use engines to trim sails and move water ballast.

The ruling by Justice Shirley Kornreich of the New York State Supreme Court is a victory for two-time defending champion Alinghi of Switzerland in a convoluted, two-year court fight with challenger BMW Oracle Racing of San Francisco.

The two bitter rivals will meet in a best-of-3 showdown in February in what could be the most spectacular racing in the 158-year history of the America's Cup. The space age-looking yachts can sail 2 to 2 1/2 times the speed of the wind.

The latest court spat started earlier this month when Alinghi launched its 90-foot catamaran that included what's been described as a snowmobile engine on its aft beam. The engine is part of a hydraulic system that powers the winches that trim the gigantic sails, as well as move water ballast from one hull to the other.

BMW Oracle Racing then asked Kornreich to hold Alinghi in contempt unless it follows the Racing Rules of Sailing without alterations. The Americans said the Swiss claimed the right to change the rules for the match at any time without mutual consent.

Kornreich ruled that she found nothing in the Deed of Gift, the 1887 document that loosely governs the America's Cup, to prohibit the engine.

"A blatant example of a design feature that would violate the Deed is an engine used to propel the boat; the Deed permits only vessels 'propelled by sails,' " the justice wrote. "The Deed does not, however, contain any restrictions on ballast or design features regarding trimming the sails. These features are therefore permitted because they are not prohibited by the language of the Deed."

The ruling was "a clear and unequivocal vindication of the position we presented," said Barry Ostrager, a New York lawyer who has represented Alinghi's backing yacht club, Societe Nautique de Geneve, during the legal tiff.

BMW Oracle Racing officials said Kornreich's ruling makes it clear that Racing Rules of Sailing 49-52 will not apply to either side during the rare one-on-one showdown, including banning the use of non-manual power and moving water ballast.

Otherwise, the Americans weren't pleased.

"Without racing rules 49-54, SNG is breaking with the long-standing history and tradition in yacht racing that prohibited the use of non-manual power," BMW Oracle Racing said in a statement. "For the first time in the Cup's history, engines will be permitted to trim the sails, and computers can be used to control and steer the yachts.

"This, we believe, is a sad day for the America's Cup. While we are pleased with the design-rule certainty, we are disappointed that the Court has said that SNG can change the other racing rules at any time up to the start of the Match. We do not believe this is what the Deed says, nor what the donors intended, and are currently reviewing our options in this regard."

BMW Oracle Racing uses crewmen called grinders to turn the winches that trim the sails on its monster trimaran that's being tested in San Diego. Syndicate spokesman Tom Ehman said last month that the design team has probably been studying adding an engine since finding out that the Swiss have one.

The Swiss said it was clear Kornreich understands the defender's advantages under the Deed of Gift.

Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth said earlier this month that other classes of racing boats use hydraulic power to trim sails, and that the size of the Cup multihulls made it a "no-brainer."

"We're moving things hydraulically," Butterworth told The Associated Press on July 20. "The loads on this boat are just horrendous. A, it's difficult to gear up for something like that, and B, I think it's safer to have that system, where you don't have so many people cluttering the whole boat, and it makes life a little bit safer for the guys that are sailing the boat."

BMW Oracle Racing is believed to be building a new boat that will be the one that faces the Swiss.

Kornreich also scheduled a hearing for Aug. 10 regarding Alinghi's demand that BMW Oracle Racing turn over a measurement certificate for its trimaran.

The Swiss plan to name a venue for the February races by next Thursday. They are considering ports in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Italy, as well as Valencia, Spain.

S ourced from: The New Zealand Herald

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