Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Races now one boat farces

Luna Rossa's boycott means the earliest we can expect a proper contest will be July 14.

Luna Rossa are adamant they won't race until the jury rules on their protest. Photo / AP
Luna Rossa are adamant they won't race until the jury rules on their protest. Photo / AP

No races and a lot of red faces. The opening week of the hyped America's Cup summer of racing is shaping to be a fizzer, with all three scheduled races set to be, at best, a one-boat procession round the course.

Italian team Luna Rossa are refusing to take the startline in today's first match of the Louis Vuitton challenger series against Team New Zealand while they await their protest to be heard by the international jury.

Holding firm on last week's threats to boycott racing until the jury makes a ruling, Luna Rossa confirmed yesterday they will not compete in today's first match. Emirates Team New Zealand will still be in action, with the rules requiring them to complete the course to collect the point.

It will be good practice for the team as on Wednesday they also have to race against themselves, with Artemis set to forfeit the round robin stages of the challenger series as they battle to get a boat on the water after their catastrophic training accident in May. With Luna Rossa scheduled to meet Artemis on Friday, the earliest we can expect a proper race is July 14.

But Luna Rossa are warning they will stay off the water until they have an official ruling on their case - even if that means waiting weeks. Their skipper, Max Sirena, said it was a matter of principle and his team did not want to appear to be supporting rules they did not accept.

While the Kiwi team have also lodged a protest over regatta director Iain Murray's moves to change the design rule as part of new safety measures, skipper Dean Barker said it was important his team remain focused on the sailing while the lawyers argued.

"We have to keep preparing for the racing in August, the round robin in July for us is really an opportunity to develop our boat and get used to sailing in the Bay. The intention is come August we're sailing as well as we possibly can," he said.

Luna Rossa's stance has angered event organisers, who are desperate for racing to begin to give media something to talk about besides the controversies of the past few weeks. Today was supposed to be the day all the bickering and fighting would give way to the awesome spectacle of the giant wing-sailed catamarans racing around San Francisco Bay.

"This isn't unexpected, but it's still disappointing," said America's Cup chief executive Stephen Barclay, who took particular exception to Luna Rossa's decision to further thumb their noses at organisers by taking to the race course yesterday for a training run.

"The people really hurt by this are the fans who have waited more than two years to see the first race in these spectacular AC72 catamarans."

Artemis helmsman Nathan Outteridge is more perplexed by Luna Rossa's decision.

"Here we are as a team, busting to go sailing," the Australian said at the team's base in Alameda, where they are working around the clock to get their second boat on the water.

While Outteridge's frustration is palpable, he is the wrong man to be delivering the message. The mess this regatta finds itself in is due in large part to Artemis' institutional incompetence, not Luna Rossa's.

- NZ Herald

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