Flying on water, or just treading?

Sailing fan and one-time America’s Cup reporter Kamahl Santamaria attempts to explain what is happening in San Francisco

Oh, where to start.

Well how about here… a blog I wrote a couple of months ago about a tragic sailing accident leading up to the 34th America’s Cup regatta, now underway in San Francisco.

It was tragic because British sailing Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson was killed. And as I wrote at the time, I don’t believe in-shore sailing regattas like this should be life-or-death events.

But the other result of the accident and the investigation was a list of 37 safety recommendations – changes to the race conditions and the boats – put forward by Regatta Director and respected sailor Iain Murray.

Here’s where it starts to get confusing.

Bear with me while I break it down into the viewpoints of each of the competing challengers:

ARTEMIS RACING: the Swedish challenger, funded by billionaire oil magnate Torbjorn Tornqvist.

Artemis was the campaign involved in the accident. It destroyed their boat, and set the campaign back months.

With the clock ticking, a decision was made to press on with the challenger series (the Louis Vuitton Cup) without Artemis. It would join in when its new boat was completed, and any other team scheduled to race against Artemis would still have to sail the course on their own to get the competition points.

But even now, Artemis’ second boat is not even in the water, let alone close to racing. Best case scenario? Artemis will be racing in the Louis Vuitton Cup in a month’s time, but barely competing.

LUNA ROSSA CHALLENGE: the ever-stylish Italian crew, backed by fashion house Prada.

Luna Rossa, along with the third challenger Emirates Team New Zealand, believes two of the safety recommendations – to do with the design and usage of the boats’ rudders – are not in fact for safety reasons, but to assist both Artemis and the defender Oracle Team USA (which only races in the America’s Cup finals in September).

Regatta management say the changes will make the boats safer to manoeuver, thus lessening the risk of another accident.

But Luna Rossa argues it’s a fundamental change to the design rule – which was agreed on by all syndicates – and only serves to assist Oracle Team USA and Artemis who’ve arguably not made as much design and speed progress.

And so Luna Rossa made a protest to the International Jury.

But that hearing didn’t begin until after the first race of the Louis Vuitton Cup, leading to this decision from skipper Max Sirena :

“By racing under these (new) rules, we would somehow silently approve them. This is not the case. Therefore we have no choice but to stay ashore until the International Jury has reached a decision on the matter. We have been forced into this position. We did not come to San Francisco to watch races, but to race.”

EMIRATES TEAM NEW ZEALAND: the one commercially-funded challenge, which has had plenty to say too. The only difference is that it IS racing.

Like Luna Rossa, the Kiwis have protested to the International Jury. However it has not chosen to boycott the, hence the bizarre sight of the New Zealand boat racing against itself up and down San Francisco Bay.

Race one was against Luna Rossa who pulled out, and race two was against Artemis who don’t have a boat. Both surreal, and quite farcical situations.

The attitude of Emirates Team New Zealand is that it’s better off getting in some real-time sailing and putting some points on the board, rather than getting caught up in legal mire.

And it means the public in San Francisco does at least get to see these amazing boats in action, albeit just one!

So where to from here? There are a couple of scenarios:

The jury rules against the protests: and with that, everyone accepts the decision and gets on with racing. There’ll still be some solo events because of the Artemis situation, but at least Luna Rossa and Emirates Team Zealand will race against each other. That’s if Luna Rossa doesn’t pull out of the event entirely, which is still a possibility.

The jury rules in favour of the protesters: which could be problematic. That would mean two of the 37 recommendations can’t be enforced, thus jeoparidising the Racing Permit issued by the U.S. Coast Guard.

No racing permit means no racing, and Iain Murray has already raised this possibility:

“I can’t stand by and honestly tell them with my hand on my heart … that the rules have changed, and this is safe. I will have to inform the Coastguard that the safety plan has not been met, and then discussion will have to take place whether the permit to race stands or it doesn’t stand. Without a permit to race on San Francisco Bay, there will be no regatta.”

However he would be a brave man to cancel his own event and risk the wrath of sponsors, teams and the public.

So it’s a farce, as so often the America’s Cup turns into.

But if you want to get an idea of why the teams and organisers are fighting so passionately on both sides, watch this video clip.

Fast-forward to around 15m10s, and you’ll see the start of the first “race” sailed by Emirates Team New Zealand.

Look at the way the boat accelerates to the start line.

It has startling power, accentuated by the way it begins to “fly” just after crossing the line. That’s a phenomenon called ‘foiling’ and is one of the reasons why this event could be so amazing to watch.

In fact the Kiwi boat hit of top speed that day of 80 kilometres per hour – unheard of for this type of racing.

So if only the Cup could get itself out of the courtroom and on to the water where it belongs, this could all well be worth watching.