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Jury sides with America’s Cup challengers

July 11, 2013

Tensions in the troubled America’s Cup could be easing after an international jury sided with challengers from New Zealand and Italy in their arguments that regatta director Iain Murray overstepped his authority in making rules changes following the fatal capsize of a third challenger’s catamaran two months ago.

One promising sign was that Italy’s Luna Rossa ended its boycott and sailed its 72-foot catamaran alone around the course on San Francisco Bay to collect its first point of the Louis Vuitton Cup for challengers.

Luna Rossa’s scheduled opponent, Sweden’s Artemis Racing, remains a no-show while it works to get its second boat up to speed following the capsize on May 9 that killed Andrew “Bart” Simpson and destroyed its first boat.

Simpson’s death led Murray to make 37 safety recommendations. Among them was a highly technical change to the winglets on the rudders of the fast, space-age boats. The Kiwis and Italians protested, saying the changes were more about performance than safety.

The syndicates said their boats were designed and built under the old rules and they didn’t have time to build new rudders and, perhaps more importantly, test them. They also said they felt the change gave an advantage to defending champion Oracle Team USA, which doesn’t have to race until the start of the 34th America’s Cup on Sept. 7.

The jury ruled that a regatta notice issued by Murray had the effect of changing the AC72 Class Rule and was not in accordance with the protocol. Murray was ordered to withdraw that notice, so the class rule reverts to how it was before he made the safety recommendations.

Last week, Murray said that if the jury sided with the challengers, he would have no choice but to go back to the U.S. Coast Guard to discuss the permit that allows racing on the bay.

The jury ordered Murray to make the views of all the competitors known to the Coast Guard.

Emirates Team New Zealand said in a statement that it was pleased the jury “has maintained the sanctity of the AC72 Class Rule in ruling that it can be changed only by unanimous consent of the competitors and the Regatta Director.”

The Kiwis added that they believe the jury’s decision “does not affect the substance of the safety plan” submitted with the application to the U.S. Coast Guard for a permit or “the excellent work the Regatta Director undertook with the Review Committee.”

The Kiwis also said they’d like to help Artemis Racing, which has said it doesn’t have the proper rudders to comply with the rules.

The Kiwis said they have proposed that when Artemis is ready to race, it be given dispensation from the class rule regarding rudder elevators as long as it otherwise complies with the class rule and safety recommendations.

“This would require the consent of the other competitors and we would strongly urge this be given,” the New Zealand statement said. “Artemis Racing is making a tremendous effort under difficult circumstances to get back on the race track and deserve support to help them achieve this.”

Tom Ehman, vice-commodore of the Golden Gate Yacht Club, which is trustee of the America’s Cup, said Murray’s 37 safety recommendations affected the protocol, the racing rules and the AC72 Class Rule. The teams agreed to amend the racing rules and the protocol, but seven changes that affected the class rule weren’t agreed on unanimously. Murray thought he could accomplish that through the event permit.

America’s Cup CEO Stephen Barclay said racing can continue if the teams abide by the existing class rule and safety rules.

“If the teams take this step, it will ensure the safety plan remains intact and the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Event Permit is unaffected,” he said.

Murray said Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa are complying with both the AC72 Class Rule and the safety rules. He said he’ll need to discuss with the teams how the jury decision affects Artemis Racing.

Artemis said it was disappointed that the jury’s decision leaves uncertainty but that it remains confident a solution will be found.

“It’s a bit of a tempest in a tea pot,” Ehman said. “There always seems to be some kind of controversy and they all get sorted out. I’m confident this one will as well.”

The Italians weren’t immediately available for comment.

Oracle Team USA said in a statement that it respected the decision of the jury, continues to support Murray and that it believes all teams have benefited from his review.

Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena said last week that the Italians would not race until the jury ruled, but that they would return regardless of the panel’s decision. They sat out the regatta’s opening race on Sunday against the Kiwis.

Now, the regatta could see its first real race on Saturday, when Luna Rossa is scheduled to face Emirates Team New Zealand.

The Kiwis have twice sailed around the course alone, including the race the Italians boycotted and on Tuesday when Artemis Racing was the scheduled opponent. They have shown remarkable speed, reaching nearly 50 mph on Thursday.

Emirates Team New Zealand was practicing on San Francisco Bay on Thursday, appearing to shadow the Italians as they finished their race.

Artemis CEO Paul Cayard said Saturday that his syndicate was about two weeks from beginning sea trials.

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