Yachting: Spies out in Cup battle

By Paul Lewis

Cup challengers complain of dirty tricks by Team NZ veterans.

Team New Zealand tests its AC-72 boat against Prada on the Hauraki Gulf on Tuesday. Photo / NZ Herald
Team New Zealand tests its AC-72 boat against Prada on the Hauraki Gulf on Tuesday. Photo / NZ Herald

America's Cup racing must be getting close - an official complaint about spying is in front of an international jury after allegations of illegal behaviour by US defenders Oracle on the Waitemata Harbour.

Italian challengers Luna Rossa have made the complaint against a former Emirates Team New Zealand crew member who now works for Oracle.

And Team NZ may have been spied on, too.

The New Zealanders and the Italians have a design agreement and their prototypes for next year's racing off San Francisco are trialling on the harbour.

The Italians believe former Team NZ member Matthew Mason has broken the rules by bringing a chase boat inside the 200m zone allowed by America's Cup rules.

Other former Kiwi stalwarts observed watching for Oracle but not named in the alleged breach include Murray Jones and Simon Daubney.

Interest in the Italian and Kiwi teams' progress has been heightened by the speed they have attained in their giant AC72 America's Cup catamarans.

Oracle and challenger of record Artemis have both been prevented from gaining invaluable training on the new, difficult boats by accidents that have caused major damage to their prototypes.

"They're just being smart-arses," said one Cup sailor involved. "They are just sitting out in front of us, waiting for us to go past, well within the 200m mark."

It is thought the Oracle watchers feel they have found a loophole in the rules by sitting near the path of the yacht as opposed to "navigating" their vessel close to their opponents, as stipulated in the rules.

Emirates Team NZ is also being watched from the land. One Italian sailor, looking for an apartment to rent in Auckland, told the story of surprising a tenant who had a number of large-lensed cameras in his Quay West apartment in Albert St.

"This man did not know we were coming and hadn't had time to tidy up," the sailor said.

"I saw he had two big cameras on the floor and a big one on a tripod, pointing out the window.

"I thought, 'big cameras ...' but then realised that there wasn't much to take pictures of.

"When I looked out the window, all I could see between two towers was the Team New Zealand base."

Luna Rossa will not comment officially until the international jury hears the case next week. The hearing will be intriguing as this jury, thanks to Oracle's protocol drawn up for this Cup, is truly independent.

It has already turned down two attempts by Swedish syndicate Artemis to have Team NZ's dagger boards banned, a move popularly supposed to have been inspired by Oracle.

It remains to be seen what action - if any - the jury will take against Oracle if spying is proved. Oracle have referred twice this year to watchers they say are Team NZ people looking at their boat but this is the first complaint of breached rules.

Spying has long been a part of the America's Cup. The Australians used skirts to disguise their revolutionary "winged keel" in 1983 and teams found divers examining their keels in 1983 and 1992. In 2003, chase boats pursued Cup yachts round the Waitemata Harbour, seeking insights.

Heat was taken out of the issue when land-based photography was allowed and rules set to control how close watchers can get to boats.

A twist to the latest spy saga is that the witness being used to prove the Luna Rossa case is performance analyst Jean-Antoine Bonnaveau who, in 2009, was accused of spying on behalf of Oracle.

Media reports at the time said Bonnaveau had acknowledged to police taking photos of an Alinghi facility in Switzerland, but no charges were laid.

Challenger racing in the US is due to start next July and the finals series is set for September.

- Herald on Sunday

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