Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Rules put pinch on race prep for Cup

Kiwi team has trust in boat, engineering work and its design, says skipper

Dean Barker and his Emirates Team New Zealand crew get up to speed in their AC72 catamaran's maiden sail on San Francisco Bay yesterday. Photo / Chris Cameron
Dean Barker and his Emirates Team New Zealand crew get up to speed in their AC72 catamaran's maiden sail on San Francisco Bay yesterday. Photo / Chris Cameron

Dean Barker believes implementing the raft of safety recommendations proposed by America's Cup authorities will have a major impact on Team New Zealand's preparation.

Skipper Barker and his crew yesterday took their AC72 catamaran for its maiden sail on San Francisco Bay, ticking off a key milestone in their build-up to this year's event.

With just six weeks to go before the team hit the startline for the Louis Vuitton challenger series, this next period is shaping up as a busy time for the team as they fine-tune their systems and learn the vagaries of the challenging San Francisco venue.

The task ahead of them became even more challenging on Thursday when the teams were presented with a comprehensive list of 37 extra safety recommendations, following an independent investigation into the fatal training accident involving Swedish team Artemis this month.

Some of the recommendations - such as lowering the wind limit and shortening the racing programme to allow more time for boat maintenance - are matters for race management. But several of the proposals, such as new stipulations on the rudder length and elevator size, will require modifications to the boats and therefore more time in the shed.

"We've got a pretty structured programme with what we need to do between now and the start of racing in July, the difficult thing right now is how we adapt to the safety recommendations," said Barker.

"It will have a big impact on our preparation because we are having to focus on some areas that we didn't think we would be, but at the same time the safety regulations are very important for all the guys on the boat."

The team have spent the past 48 hours trying to get their head around what changes they will need to make if the recommendations stand.

As the review committee does not have the mandate to make changes to the Protocol which governs the race, most of the recommendations will need mutual agreement from the teams before they can be implemented and Barker expects there will be some interesting discussions at the competitor meetings over the coming week.

"I'm sure you'll see all the teams will have different agendas because everyone's equipment is already built so it's very hard to find a common ground where every team feels like they are affected equally," Barker said.

The Swedish team's catastrophic capsize on the Bay two weeks ago, in which British double Olympic medallist Andrew Simpson died, ignited a ferocious debate over the safety of the high-powered, high-speed catamarans.

Yesterday saw Cup defenders Oracle return to the water for the first time since the accident, as Team New Zealand ventured out on San Francisco Bay for the first time.

Italian team Luna Rossa, who chose to ignore the recommendation of Cup organisers to suspend their sailing programme while investigations were ongoing, were also out training once again.

Despite this month's tragic events, Barker said there was no hesitancy from his crew to get back out on the water.

"As you'd expect everyone is a little anxious because a tragic accident has occurred and it is obviously incredibly sad.

"You can't help but not be affected by it because [Simpson] was a good friend of a lot of ours and we're still struggling to come to terms with it," he said.

"But when you look at our equipment we have a huge amount of trust in the boat, the design and the engineering work the guys have done, and also the work the shore crew do in terms of the preparation and the maintenance of the boat.

"We have a lot of faith in our gear and we've sailed in some pretty extreme conditions back in New Zealand."

After doing a couple of structural sign-offs, Team New Zealand got in three hours of "good quality sailing time" on a relatively calm day on the Bay, with a top of 16 knots.

Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton said they had targeted May 24 as their first sail date three months ago, and he was delighted his team were able to keep to their schedule.

"It was perfect. The boys got straight into it foiling across the face of the Golden Gate Bridge - something we have had in mind for a couple of years," he said.

- NZ Herald

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