Legality of Team Origin yacht questioned

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The Independent Online

The wings of a new €2m campaign involving Britain's top yachtsmen are threatened with being clipped just as it prepares to fly. Team Origin, set up to challenge for the America's Cup, has had the legality of its new 52-foot racing yacht called into question by an Audi MedCup official and has been certified legal to race only until 1 June.

Team Origin, skippered by three times Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie with double gold medallist Iain Percy as tactician, hopes to topple the reigning MedCup champions Emirates Team New Zealand.

The launch ceremony for the Juan Kouyoumdjian-designed yacht was also disrupted as team owner Sir Keith Mills flew out of Lisbon fearing, rightly, that the volcanic ash cloud could close the airport on Monday and, as deputy chairman of LOCOG, the Olympic organisation, he had to host a major dinner on Monday night.

The launch was put back to Tuesday and team members Leslie Greenhalgh and Charlotte Harmer stood in for Lady Maureen Mills. 

At the centre of the row are some wings on the boat's keel which the class manager Rob Weiland says are outside the rules.  

Juan K, as he is known, added the wings to improve performance of the yacht upwind, knowing that the price was likely to be a slight decrease in speed downwind. He has been in conflict with Weiland in the past, when his 50-foot Coyote was banned from the Admiral's Cup in 1999 for reinforcing with Kevlar the unstayed mast of the French yacht Coyote.

He says that he knew only a week ago of Weiland's objection and said: "There is nothing in the rule that remotely forbids (wings) or suggests anything like it. TP52s have had wings in the past, for instance on Karl Kwok's Beau Gests. I don't think it's fair. Interpretations [by the class manager] are not the way to change the rule."

Origin sailing director Mike Sanderson accepts that it will be a fairly easy job to remove the wings for the next regatta in Marseille but says: "We need to look at this in more depth. In the mean time we will give it a good go."

The 11-boat fleet includes five America's Cup teams, and the Audi five-regatta Audi series will be the most difficult to win in Europe this summer. To make the top four will be a tough task on any day. To be in the bottom third will be all too easy as any mistake will prove costly.

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