Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Australian regatta director says he's saving teams from themselves

He prefers to remain behind the scenes, but this week regatta director Iain Murray imposed himself as the central figure in the 34th America's Cup by taking the fate of the event into his own hands.

Murray, who says he is "saving the teams from themselves", dropped a bombshell on the eve of the opening ceremony, threatening to scuttle the regatta if his alterations to the design rules are not upheld by the international jury on Tuesday.

Whether he follows through with those threats should the Kiwis and Italians succeed in the jury room remains to be seen, but it is evident from this week's posturing that the 55-year-old Australian is prepared to match the outspoken team heads by playing hardball himself.

Highly regarded in the yachting world, his involvement with the America's Cup began in 1983, when he was helmsman for Syd Fischer's challenger Advance.

He then joined Kevin Parry's Kookaburra syndicate for Australia's defence in 1987, in which he famously lodged 37 protests in a cantankerous defence series (four Australian syndicates were vying for the right to represent the Royal Perth Yacht Club to defend the Cup), but was vanquished in the 27th Cup match by Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes.

Murray bristled when his familiarity with the jury room during his Cup career was raised in this week's press session, firing back: "Might I say of those 37 challenges I won every one of them."

A skilled naval architect, Murray has designed, built and sailed championship boats in the 18ft skiff class, and completed 19 Sydney-Hobart races, of which he currently holds the course record.

More importantly, as regards his experience in overseeing the review into the Artemis training accident, Murray chaired the Australian Maritime Safety Authority at the time it was looking into the 1998 Sydney-Hobart tragedy, in which five boats sank and six sailors died.

Murray's appointment and the establishment of the America's Cup race management organisation in 2010 were hailed as the first time in the event's 162-year history that the defender had divested management of the competition into the hands of a neutral body.

Over the past few weeks as tension has risen around the contentious new rudder regulations, Murray has been at pains to point out the organisation's neutrality, and did so again in his briefing this week.

"I was appointed regatta director by the challengers, and accepted in that role by the defender. I work on behalf of all the teams," he said.

But, as one European journalist later pointed out, his words would have had more weight had Tom Ehman - the Golden Gate Yacht Club representative - not been seated at the back of the press conference, overseeing the operation like a conductor in an orchestra.

Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton has previously described Murray as "a nice guy, he's straight down the middle - I've got a lot of respect for him".

However, with his new rudder regulations, Dalton believes Murray has become too conservative, with the issue of liability nagging away at him should another accident occur.

Murray struggled to compose himself when he fronted media the day after the death of Andrew Simpson. He does not want another tragedy.

"Someone needs to save these teams from themselves."

- NZ Herald

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