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Spying accusations stoke America's Cup rivalries


Spying is set to spark new battle lines in the America’s Cup as tempers fray on Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf. At odds are the €90m Italian team Luna Rossa, backed by the Prada luxury goods house, and the San Francisco-based, Lord knows how many millions Oracle team, holders of the cup and backed by computer software billionaire Larry Ellison.

Spying has been going on forever as rival teams assess the performance of their competitors – if Oracle is indeed spying on Luna Rossa it will also be spying on Team New Zealand (TNZ) and if it is not it would be astonishing.

But there are rules, one of which says that anyone using cameras or performance measuring equipment should respect a 200-metre exclusion zone.

It is encroaching within 200 metres that is at the heart of the latest row. Luna Rossa will not say of it has lodged an official protest, Oracle will not say if it has been protested officially, but a source conformed that an official protest has been lodged with the international jury chaired by Australian David Tillett. TNZ is maintaining silence with a wry smile.

In an amusing aside, a senior local observer said that, at times, the boat being used by Oracle’s men in the field was not fast enough to keep up with Luna Rossa. It is assumed that the specification of the chase boat was not based on the performance of the Oracle Cup boat.

The search for a winning design path for the new 72-foot wing-powered catamarans which will be used for America’s Cup 34’s next year is all-important. The Swedish challenger Artemis has failed in a second attempt to seek a ruling that Team New Zealand’s interpretation and corroboration by the measurement committee is incorrect. Luna Rossa is sharing the TNZ hull design.

At least Artemis can again sail its boat in San Francisco after being damaged in initial trials. Oracle is not attempting to repair the wing of its first boat, trashed when USA17 capsized near the Golden Gate Bridge. The second wing is due to arrive from Auckland mid-January, so sailing may resume end-January/early February, Oracle has two months in hand as it does not have race until September, whereas TNZ, the Italians and the Swedes begin the Louis Vuitton Cup on 4 July, the winner going through to be the sole challenger.

In the Atlantic, 2004-05 winner Vincent Riou became the seventh of the 20 starters to retire from the Vendée Globe singlehanded non-stop round the world race. His new boat, PRB, hit a free-floating navigation buoy off Brazil.

Race rules allow competitors to make repairs but they cannot accept outside assistance. A gash in the hull was made worse by damage to rigging which holds up the mast, weakening it so much that Riou was forced reluctantly to turn the bow of his new PRB to Bahia de Salvador and out of the race.

At the front of the fleet, Armel le Cleac’h continues to lead past the St. Helena high pressure zone but Alex Thomson has moved up to fourth, having passed Switzerland’s Bernard Stamm with Britain’s Mike Golding in sixth, but 220 miles behind Stamm.