Yachting: Clash on water true start to Cup races

Team NZ and Luna Rossa set to meet after jury ruling gets event back on course

"It's time to repair the damage. It started back in 2008 and it's still going on, so some time soon we have to start mending this thing."

With those words - and after a jury ruling which set the America's Cup back on course - Emirates Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton may have signalled the real start of the 34th America's Cup, nine days after the regatta opened.

The healing will start tomorrow morning (NZT) when Team NZ meet Italian syndicate Luna Rossa, the first race to involve more than one boat and the first clash to take place on the water rather than in a jury room, meeting room or through the media.

Even more, yesterday's jury ruling upholding the Luna Rossa and Team NZ protests was backed up by a Team NZ move to help Artemis get to the start line - one of the few matters still in doubt. Ironically, the suggestion is that Artemis be allowed to step outside the class rule - the same class rule which formed the basis of the protests by the two syndicates.

The protests claimed that rudder changes proposed by regatta director Iain Murray under the banner of safety could not be pushed through without the unanimous consent of all teams - an America's Cup byword when it comes to changing the class rule which governs the design and building of the boats.

Luna Rossa and Team NZ claimed the rudder changes were performance-related rather than safety measures and unfairly advantaged holders Oracle.

However, Team NZ's proposal to give Artemis dispensation from the class rule, if the proposed rudder changes are vital for their participation, opens the door for the Swedish syndicate to compete. It could lay to rest their earlier threat to withdraw if the protests were upheld because they needed the rudder changes that would contravene the class rule.

The ball is now firmly in Artemis' court. Team NZ, Oracle and presumably the Italians - even though they have been upset at Artemis' previous challenges to the jury protesting at the design co-operation between Luna Rossa and Team NZ - will all agree but it is not yet known if Artemis will.

Artemis said they were disappointed with the jury decision, believing it left uncertainty though they were confident a safety solution would be found. They face big problems in balancing safety and performance in their second boat, after the death of their sailor Andrew Simpson in the accident in May - problems that may well transcend the rudder debate.

Also, the jury hearing is understood to have been told by Artemis sailing boss Paul Cayard that Team NZ's offer made the syndicate look like second-class citizens, though it is hard to think of a more second-class outcome than not getting the boat out of the shed and into the water in time for the Louis Vuitton semifinals - the earliest time Artemis have indicated they will be ready to sail.

"If they need that [dispensation] to make it to the start line, Paul Cayard might have a little bit of pride-swallowing to do," said Dalton. "I hope he takes this in the spirit in which it was made - a respectful offer from us to help a team under pressure and with a lot of guys on board whom we know to get on the water."

However, Artemis' participation aside, with one stroke of the pen the jury has released most of the rest of the tension from this America's Cup. There is no more talk of Luna Rossa quitting the event. The jury ruling effectively prevents Murray from acting on his earlier threat to have the regatta cancelled by causing the US Coast Guard to withdraw the marine permit on safety grounds. The jury ruled that a regatta notice issued by Murray had changed the class rule.

He was ordered to withdraw that notice and to make the views of all the competitors known to the Coast Guard.

The Weekend Herald understands that the Coast Guard is likely to embrace the decision and accept the other changes made in the name of safety, allowing the event to proceed.

"It was a very considered jury ruling," said Dalton. "It gives enough wriggle room to all parties - to the race officer, the event, the teams and the Coast Guard. It has been a well-thought-through decision and they have done themselves proud."

Oracle also confirmed they are good to go: "We respect the decision of the America's Cup jury," said Grant Simmer, Oracle's general manager. "We continue to support the regatta director and we believe all teams have benefited from his review.

"We don't have an issue complying with the class rule and we will be ready to race under the rules affirmed by the jury."

• Luna Rossa yesterday ended their boycott and sailed alone to collect their first point of the Louis Vuitton Cup for challengers.

- NZ Herald

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