Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Safety increases recommended for America's Cup

The AC72 catamarans, pictured in Auckland trials. Photo / Greg Bowker
The AC72 catamarans, pictured in Auckland trials. Photo / Greg Bowker

Structural reviews of AC72 boats and wings, a 10-knot lower wind limit and enhanced sailor safety equipment are among the 37 recommendations issued today to increase safety during this year's America's Cup 2013 America's Cup.

The recommendations were presented by regatta director Iain Murray at a meeting with the four competing teams in San Francisco today, following the review committee's investigation in to the death of Artemis sailor Andrew Simpson in a training accident earlier this month.

The review committee stopped short of making its own recommendations, as it is understood they were unable to get liability insurance. So it fell to Murray to formulate and deliver the specific safety recommendations.

Many of the recommendations are intended to increase the personal safety of the sailors and they include buoyancy aids, body armor, crew locator devices, hands-free breathing apparatus and high visibility helmets.

Other recommendations are specific to the AC72 yachts, additional support equipment and race management.

All four competing teams were interviewed by the review committee as part of their investigations, with America's Cup officials claiming the majority of the recommendations represent a consensus of the competitors.

But the issue of reducing the wind limits for the regatta is likely to prove the most divisive for the teams.

The regatta director's recommendations advise the wind limit be reduced to 20kts in July, 21kts in August, and 23kts in September, with additional wind limit adjustments for tide and sea state.

Team New Zealand managing director Grant Dalton told the Herald at the weekend his team made trade-offs with the design of their boat to ensure it was robust enough to cope with the wind range originally set down in the protocol, and extensive testing had shown their boat was reliable in heavy conditions.

"[Simpson's death] is an absolute tragedy, it really is, and our only hope is teams don't try and manipulate the environment to suit their own ends with rule changes," he said from the team's newly constructed San Francisco base. "We've had 50-odd days sailing in the AC72s and we believe these boats are inherently quite safe."

Team New Zealand released a statement this afternoon to announce the team supports the review committee's recommendations in principle.
"They are prudent and reasonable," said Dalton.

"The committee has done some remarkable work in only six days. The details still have to be worked on but we see nothing that will adversely affect the event."

"We have confidence in our boat - design, engineering and construction -and the sailing and support crews. We have invested a lot of time and money on safety."

America's Cup authorities will now form a number of task forces to bring in experts to define additional technical recommendations for specific safety items such as protective gear for sailors.

"Producing and implementing the safety plan is within the scope of the America's Cup, as the sponsoring organization for this summer's racing," said Stephen Barclay, the CEO of the America's Cup.

"This America's Cup safety plan is a necessary component of the permit application submitted to the Coast Guard for their consideration."

- NZ Herald

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