Dana Johannsen on sport
Dana Johannsen is a Herald sport writer

Yachting: Real racing likely as boycott threats abate

By Dana Johannsen, in San Francisco

There is increased optimism the America's Cup will continue with a full complement of teams regardless of how the jury rules, with talks of boycotts quietening in San Francisco.

The international jury is expected to come back today with a decision on the protest of Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa over late changes to the rudder design.

When the furore over the rules dispute erupted on the eve of the regatta, there were demonstrations of brinkmanship from all sides, Luna Rossa and Artemis both warning if the results didn't go their respective way, that would be the end of their campaign. Meanwhile, regatta director Iain Murray threatened to scuttle the regatta altogether if the jury did not uphold the new rudder regulations he introduced in the name of safety.

But it seems all sides are backing down from such talk.

Artemis chief executive Paul Cayard said last week if the other two challengers "get what they want" it would automatically exclude his side from the event as it would be left without a legal set of rudders and no time to build new ones in the battle to be race-ready before the knockout stages of the regatta.

Yesterday Nathan Outteridge, the helmsman for the Swedish team, hinted a deal would most likely be struck with the other teams. With Artemis struggling to get on the water at all, Team NZ and Luna Rossa aren't so concerned about the Swedish threat - they are more worried about the rules favouring Cup defenders Oracle.

"I'm pretty sure common sense is going to prevail here," said Outteridge. "The four teams are smart enough to know this event doesn't have many teams and they need another team out there. So I'd be disappointed to see us put out of the event because of something like that."

Luna Rossa also appeared to have softened their stance in recent days. While they are not prepared to race until the jury has released a decision, skipper Max Sirena said his team had invested "too much time and energy" to simply pack up and go home now.

The team's owner, Patrizio Bertelli, remains the wildcard though, if he isn't satisfied with the jury's reasoning, he could withdraw his team.

Team NZ tactician Ray Davies said his team wouldn't be sweating on the jury decision, their on-water development remaining their sole focus.

The Kiwi team yesterday collected their second point of the Louis Vuitton Cup after another unopposed jaunt around the race track. They were scheduled to meet Artemis in their second match of the regatta, but with the Swedish team still undergoing structural testing on their second boat, Team NZ were left to go it alone.

They produced another slick display, completing the 16.1 nautical mile course about a minute faster than Monday's solo effort.

But the action on the water this week has been secondary to the off-water ructions. While the America's Cup world is eagerly awaiting the decision from the international jury, Davies said he and the rest of the crew weren't wasting any time worrying about the result.

"You never know which way it's going to go with the jury. It doesn't bother me, we just have to get on with it either way," said Davies.

Before yesterday's "race", Cup defenders Oracle flexed their muscle on San Francisco Bay, taking both their AC72s out for a spin. With Olympic great Ben Ainslie, known for his aggressive sailing, at the helm of boat one to push Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill in boat two, Team NZ will be very nervous about their solo sailing programme through much of the early rounds of the Louis Vuitton Cup.

Kiwi boat's pace astounds Cup director

Watching Team New Zealand's AC72 scream around San Francisco Bay these past few days is enough to make Iain Murray enthused about sailing again.

The America's Cup regatta director has appeared on the brink of exhaustion in recent days, with the pressure of the protest over his safety measures clearly taking its toll.

But the 55-year-old Australian, who has been involved with the America's Cup since 1983, lit up when asked about Team New Zealand's performance on San Francisco Bay.

The Kiwi boat has wowed commentators with its sheer pace, recording speeds never before seen in America's Cup sailing. They touched 42.8 knots in their opening "race", and went close to hitting that mark again yesterday with an official top speed at 42.26 knots.

Even the monster 27m trimaran Oracle raced in during the 2010 Deed of Gift challenge never got over 40 knots in race.

Murray, who takes his place on the committee boat during racing, said watching Team New Zealand hurtling round the race course is "truly remarkable".

"I think we all sit back in awe when we realise how fast these boats are going," he said. "When you see them coming at you at the finish doing in excess of 40 knots and there are marks you can barely see three miles down the track and they're getting down there in five minutes, to us old-timers it's truly remarkable what we're seeing here."

A methodical planner, Murray compiled detailed spreadsheets ahead of the regatta to calculate the course times according to various wind speeds and angles. But Murray said Team NZ are already sailing 40 per cent faster than the estimates he'd been given.

"The part I am amazed with is the development over the past four or five months of speed into these boats. It's the manoeuvrability and the percentage loss in gybe and tacks," he said.

"I come from 3000-4000 hours of sailing 12m yachts off Fremantle," said Murray, referring to the 1987 America's Cup. "The time that we spent trying to minimise our speed loss from 8.25knots down to 6.5 in a tack and I look at these guys touch on 10 as the bottom speed in a tack and maybe 25 in a bottom on the gybe... these are things we've never seen in sailing before."

- NZ Herald

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