Paul Lewis: Lift wind limits and let big cats really show their stuff


Okay, it's got silly now. Having three races postponed in the Louis Vuitton Cup regatta because the wind was too strong is like the All Blacks delaying a test because the grass is too long.

The AC72 catamarans - no matter what you think of them - were designed to go fast; the original wind limits were top-ended at 33 knots. Everyone now agrees that might have been a little bit over the top but the point remains: this is a regatta not a retirement home.

We all know why the wind limits in the America's Cup and its component regattas were reduced. No one, in addressing this issue, should minimise or forget the capsize that caused the life of Artemis crewman Andrew Simpson in May.

But Artemis are gone. They were never going to make the Louis Vuitton Cup match after so long off the water, waiting for their boat to be built and recovering from the fatal prang.

No one knows the official reason for their crash - there is still no official report and one begins to suspect there never will be - but, whatever it was, it was almost certainly not caused by the wind.

There's only Emirates Team New Zealand, Oracle Team USA and Luna Rossa left - and they all seem able to contend with winds over the 21 knots which are now the maximum allowable breezes in a race (rising to 23 knots for the Cup match). The average speed of the afternoon winds so far has been 19-22 knots, meaning all the postponed races would have been run if they had been America's Cup races as opposed to Louis Vuitton races).

So losing afternoon races as San Francisco's predictable winds build velocity later in the day seems wrong. Matters are confused more by the process of altering the limits because of the tides - the currents being an integral part of racing on San Francisco Bay. If there is an outgoing tide, the limits are reduced further. So a wind blowing at 20 knots, if faced by an outgoing tide of two knots, means the limit for that race is only 18 knots. It works the other way round with an incoming tide - the limits are raised - and there should be more racing in coming days as the tides switch to what they call "flood tides" in these parts.

It's all about safety. There's also the fact that some teams, particularly the Italians, might be glad of the reductions after all the gear breakages. Team NZ might reflect that, in higher winds, the marine face plant they did, with men overboard, might have been worse if they had been going faster.

But the point now is about the spectacle of the thing. This regatta has been buffeted from the beginning - the capsizes, the safety rules, the arguments, the one-boat 'races', and now the gear breakages which have troubled both the Italians and the New Zealanders.

In short, it's been short of anything like the 'summer of racing' and the tagline that is now little used: 'The Best Sailors. The Fastest Boats. Great Entertainment'.

What's been great has been the wait between races. In a regatta which has now been going six and a half weeks, there have been only 11 races. That's not counting the one-boat races but does include races where two started but only one finished.

In the 2007 America's Cup in Valencia, there were up to eight races a day in the round robins. Spot the difference. But let's not go there ... Oracle Team USA and co have been hammered enough about the lack of challengers at this regatta.

The spectacle could be enhanced by raising the wind limits enough to take most of the afternoon winds/tides into account.

It won't happen but this is a plea to do so. The world is watching. Keep them watching.

- NZ Herald

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