America’s Cup tensions could be easing after an international jury ruled against controversial sailing safety changes which had seen one team boycott the warm-up race.
The jury has 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.
Italy’s Luna Rossa decided to end its boycott and head on to San Francisco Bay on Thursday to sail around the course alone and 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.
Performance over safety
The Kiwis and Italians protested against the changes because they said they were more about performance than safety.
The syndicates said that 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 felt that the change gave an advantage to defending champion Oracle Team USA, which does not have to race until the start of the 34th America’s Cup on September 7.
The jury ruled that a regatta notice issued by Murray had the effect of changing the class rule and was not in accordance with the protocol.
Murray was ordered to withdraw that notice.
Coast guard permit
Murray said last week that if the jury sided with the challengers, he would have no choice but to go back to the US Coast Guard to discuss the permit it issued for racing on San Francisco Bay.
The jury ordered Murray to make the views of all the competitors known to the Coast Guard.
“I look back at the recommendations that I put together back in, and put forward on May the 22nd and I stand by every one of those recommendations today,” Murray said.
“They were done in an honest attempt to look after these crews and make sure that they do have every opportunity to come home at night.”
Emirates Team New Zealand said In a written statement they were pleased that 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 said that they believe the jury’s decision “does not affect the substance of the safety plan submitted with the application to the US Coast Guard for a marine event permit.”
The New Zealanders said that they would like to help Artemis Racing, which has said it does not have the proper rudders to comply with the rules.
They had proposed that when Artemis was ready to race, they 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.”