A series of demands which would radically alter the upcoming America’s Cup have been made by Patrizio Bertelli, boss of the luxury goods house Prada, which is backing the Italian challenger Luna Rossa.
Most important are changes to the race rules which lay down wind strength limits and additional safety provisions following the death last week of British Olympic gold medallist Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson.
Simpson was trapped under 72-foot wing-powered catamaran when the Swedish challenger Artemis flipped over while training on San Francisco Bay.
Present rules call for a wind limit of 25 knots during the early stages, starting 5 July, of the Louis Vuitton Cup elimination races to find which of the three current challengers, the third is Emirates Team New Zealand, goes forward to race against the locally-based American defender Oracle in America’s Cup 34.
This rises to 28 knots in the LVC final and then up to 33 knots in the best of 17 cup matches which start on 7 September. Bertelli wants the limit to be reduced to 20 knots for the whole of the LVC and 25 knots for the cup match, though why it is any safer to increase the limit for such a demanding schedule - the 17 races are scheduled for a 14-day programme – is unclear.
The challengers had to design, build and test boats which would perform in the conditions laid down by the people who drew up the protocol, the American defender. Different specifications would have led to different design and build specifications. The Kiwis will not be happy.
“There have always been ups and downs in the America’s Cup, says Bertelli, who recalled the break-up of an Australian boat off San Diego and the dismasting of Team New Zealand when defending off Auckland. “But what has happened is much more serious than in the past.”
Luna Rossa also wants to see the protective helmets made stronger – there have been rumours that Simpson’s helmet suffered significant damage – and for the crews to wear body armour. He wants an enhanced plan for emergencies, including a water ambulance close to the race track and a helicopter standing by in addition to medics on support boats and divers fully equipped to join any rescue operations.
He is apprehensive that a review committee led by the boss of America’s Cup Race Management, Iain Murray, can only make recommendations and has no power to impose changes to the protocol that governs the whole event or to the class rules which govern the boats.
“It is not clear to us what will happen,” said Bertelli, who had flown to California to take part in the review undertaken by his own team. He added that his team trusted its own boat, which was interpreted by the America’s Cup Event Authority as: “We appreciate the vote of confidence Mr. Bertelli, president of Luna Rossa Challenge, gave to the America's Cup continuing as planned this summer on San Francisco Bay.”
But Bertelli’s parting shot made it clear that there are other things to be settled before giving an unequivocal go-ahead to his team. “We will respect the protocol and class rule as they have been approved. I am in favour of discussing the class rule with the other teams, but we will not accept any impositions.”
The Artemis team has yet to indicate its clear intention to continue with its challenge. The boat which broke up cannot be sailed and will need time to repair, a process which may be hampered if reports that its second boat, the one it intended to campaign, suffered some damage in transit from Sweden.
There are only seven weeks to work up the new boat and be in full race mode. Some of those may be lost just repairing the second boat. Team boss Torbjorn Tornqvist and sailing director Iain Percy, who partnered Simpson to both gold in China and silver in Weymouth last year, have been in intensive discussions since Tuesday with team ceo Paul Cayard.
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