Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Rudder row goes right to the edge

Iain Murray says he won't be able to attest that racing is safe if his rudder recommendation is overturned. Photo / AP
Iain Murray says he won't be able to attest that racing is safe if his rudder recommendation is overturned. Photo / AP

The row over new America's Cup rudder regulations has become a battle of brinkmanship.

After Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena intimated this week his team would consider boycotting the event if the jury do not uphold their protest over alterations made to the design rule, regatta director Iain Murray yesterday raised the stakes again.

Murray says there won't be an event if his safety recommendations aren't followed.

So the scene is set for a fascinating opening week of the America's Cup, where the limited action on the water will be secondary to the duelling in the jury room.

Murray took the opportunity to fight his corner early yesterday, calling a safety briefing to "set the record straight" over some of the more contentious points of his 37 safety recommendations made after the death of Artemis sailor Andrew Simpson.

During the 54-minute briefing, Murray appeared highly agitated at times as he explained the reasoning behind his decision to change the design rule to allow for deeper rudders with larger winglets for additional stability.

He believes the rudder changes are essential for safe control of the high-powered AC72 catamarans, and objects to suggestions from Team New Zealand and the Italians that he is favouring Cup defenders Oracle.

The new rudder specifications form part of the 37 recommendations he put to the Coastguard in his application for a marine event permit.

Murray said that should the jury rule in favour of Team NZ, he would have to go back to the Coastguard and tell it he did not think racing would be safe.

"I can't stand by and honestly tell them with my hand on my heart ... that the rules have changed, and this is safe," said Murray.

"I will have to inform the Coastguard that the safety plan has not been met, and then discussion will have to take place whether the permit to race stands or it doesn't stand. Without a permit to race on San Francisco Bay, there will be no regatta."

Team NZ are bemused by Murray's claims the regatta won't go ahead if they are successful in the jury room on Tuesday.

Racing in the Louis Vuitton Cup will begin on Monday, before the jury has a chance to hear the arguments from both sides. The start of the event has not been delayed by the protest as the only two teams racing at this stage are the Kiwis and Italians, both of whom built their boats to comply with the original design rules.

Murray's alteration to the rules would not make their rudders illegal; it simply extends the rule to allow for rudder elevators and symmetrical rudders.

Team NZ boss Grant Dalton therefore asks why, if their rudders are deemed safe, is the event under threat should their protest be upheld?

"What kind of makes you go 'huh?' is, if it's okay to sail with the asymmetric rudders, then why do we need the symmetric ones?" he said.

"If we just do the sensible test on that one - if they're both allowed, then the inference is they are both safe, so it shouldn't jeopardise the permit."

But Murray has found support from Oracle chief executive Russell Coutts, who scoffed at allegations his team are benefiting from the safety recommendations, saying Team NZ were "dreaming up conspiracies".

"To suggest [Murray] would favour one team over another is insulting to him, and it's also insulting to us. We play by the rules and we win playing by the rules."

- NZ Herald

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