America's Cup: Daft officials undermine grand plan for sailing

By Paul Lewis

Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Sorry, but Emirates Team New Zealand were wrongly denied the America's Cup yesterday.

Oh, it's all part of the rules, all right; this is no cheating accusation or anything like that.

But time limits have no place in this America's Cup. It's a joke. Time limits have been applied in regattas almost since Sir Francis Drake. They have been part of the America's Cup for almost forever. But they don't belong in this America's Cup.

Why? Because we have 72-foot foiling catamarans that blast round the course like Batmobiles; and because when the race was called off, what was happening?

Sailing was happening, that's what. The yachts could have finished the race, they were moving forward in an orderly fashion, with Emirates Team New Zealand on their way to collect the Cup, it seemed, with Oracle Team USA about a kilometre astern and powerless to do anything about it. Why call it off?

It wasn't exciting but it was ... racing.

Time limits were originally introduced to put an end to what sailors call a 'drifter' - when no wind is blowing and no one is going anywhere. It doesn't matter that the AC72s weren't foiling. It doesn't matter they weren't providing high-speed thrills. They were moving and rather well in Team NZ's case.

Sailing in light airs is part of sailing too. It might not use the AC72s in the mode they were designed for but, as Team NZ showed, you can still win in them.

Which is what should have happened - and the America's Cup should once again be New Zealand's Cup and we should all be waking up with hangovers today.

There was 9 knots of wind blowing, for Pete's sake. At times, the two boats got over 20 knots. Ask any sailor; 9 knots of wind and 20 knots of boat speed? That's better than a bucketload of bilgewater round the barnacles.

The minimum wind speed allowed to start a race in this America's Cup is 5 knots. But how could anyone get round this race track in 5 knots if they couldn't do it in 9 knots yesterday? There's something screwy here ...

Consider, if you will, the vision of Messrs Larry Ellison and Sir Russell Coutts in staging this regatta. A made-for-TV event, with compellingly fast catamarans and a course made so that spectators could see it from shore. Sailing wrested from the Flintstones generation and taken to the Facebook generation, I believe the quote went. They wanted to take sailing to the masses.

There's just one little thing. Who is going to watch a sport that prevents itself from finishing? News flash: 'Racing cancelled because racing is happening'.

Fans don't want time limits; they want results. This regatta - in spite of the, at times, exhilarating racing of the Cup match - has copped it because of the scarcity of competitors and races cancelled because of wind limits when both teams seemed to be racing safely. We all know why this is so - the fatal Artemis capsize - but there is no need to go piling time limits on top.

It's like making a Ferrari race with flat tyres and then penalising it for being too slow.

The official line is that the time limits were agreed between all the teams - as were the race course, the schedule and the wind limits. However, Cup sources told the Herald on Sunday that, when the rules were first mooted, only a "target" (as opposed to a limit) of 30 minutes was proposed. Later, that was written into the sailing instructions as a 40-minute limit.

You can put lipstick on a pig and give it a polka-dot dress but it's still a pig. The time limits are unnecessary in this regatta and seem to be there more because of tradition and the 'but-that's-what-we-have-always-done' syndrome.

It's the third time in this regatta Team NZ have been pulled back from the brink of victory because of what seem to be arcane rules. Good luck attracting the masses with that.

Americans dislike football (soccer) and cricket because the two sports often end in a draw; no result. What must they think of America's Cup sailing?

Well, I can hazard a guess what the Facebook generation will think of it. They'll be thinking it came from the Rulebook generation.

- Herald on Sunday

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