America's Cup: Questions remain over allegations of cheating

By Paul Lewis

According to this report, Oracle's initial investigation concluded that all three AC45s were illegally weighted. Photo / Guilian Grenier
According to this report, Oracle's initial investigation concluded that all three AC45s were illegally weighted. Photo / Guilian Grenier

Oracle Team USA said in a report to the international jury earlier this month they had inserted illegal lead shot into an AC45 now supposedly cleared of suspicion of cheating.

The report contradicts a subsequent finding there was no evidence found in the AC45 skippered by Oracle CEO Sir Russell Coutts.

Allegations of cheating were made after reports that all three AC45s owned by Oracle and used in the America's Cup World Series (a warm-up event to the 34th America's Cup, won by Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill) were reputed to have had illegal weights stored on board. Oracle retrospectively withdrew all three yachts from the series.

Then matters took a puzzling turn. The America's Cup measurement committee admitted making a mistake; they had believed all three boats were involved but a subsequent examination found no trace of any illegal weights in Coutts' boat.

Mark Turner, Oracle's construction manager and one of the principals of Warkworth-based Core Builders Composites (an Oracle subsidiary and builders of the AC45s), said he did not tell the committee that all three boats had been involved.

Coutts was the skipper of Oracle Racing 5. Sir Ben Ainslie was the skipper of Ben Ainslie Racing (Oracle boat 9, the one first found to have illegal weights inserted); Spithill helmed Oracle Racing 4.

In a report dated August 4 and previously confidential, Oracle rules adviser Richard Slater wrote to the jury over the revelation that Ainslie's boat had been found to have illegal weight inserted in a kingpost.

The report reads: "Mr Slater immediately advised [Oracle general manager] Grant Simmer of the measurement committee's report. Mr Simmer tasked Mark Turner, Oracle shore/build team manager, to conduct an initial investigation, which was done on Saturday, July 27, 2013.

"Mr Turner was informed that: (a) prior to the August ACWS San Francisco Regatta, Oracle personnel did modify the king post on the BAR AC45 yacht by adding a mixture of lead and resin into the kingpost; (b) that a similar modification had been made to the two Oracle AC45s prior to the Newport ACWS regattas.

"It appears both Oracle AC45s had lead shot in a small bag that was then inserted into the kingpost. We do not know if the lead shot remains in the kingposts of the two Oracle yachts as these yachts are now under the control of ACRM."

According to this report, Oracle's initial investigation concluded that all three AC45s were illegally weighted. But no illegalities were found on the Coutts yacht in a subsequent examination of the boats.

The committee advised the jury that three boats were involved because they thought they had been told that by Oracle. At that stage, they had investigated only Boat 9 (Ainslie's) but did not examine the others because of that advice.

The committee was forced to admit an error because information from Oracle on August 13 maintained they did not tell the committee all three boats were involved. However, in the August 4 report, Oracle clearly state all three were.

In recent media statements, Oracle has commented that the vindication of the Coutts boat demonstrated that the illegal weighting was not a team-wide issue. That created doubt where before there existed suspicion that something wrong was going on.

The America's Cup international jury is investigating, with the possibility Oracle could suffer a penalty ranging from censure through a fine to docked points or disqualification.

In his report, measurement committee chairman Nick Nicholson, said the error was due to "confusion in nomenclature, miscommunication and/or a misunderstanding on our part" for saying three boats were involved.

The committee seemed to have misunderstood boat builder Glynn Davies' advice that the forward kingposts on all three boats had been modified. The committee subsequently accepted that Davies might have told them that one other kingpost was involved - borne out by their subsequent examination.

However, the committee's language seemed to take less responsibility for the misunderstanding with Turner, saying: "... Mr Turner stated that it was his belief that components had been modified on all three boats participating in the ACWS that were owned or maintained by Oracle. The measurement committee's report to the regatta director on August 4 conveyed this information in a way we believe reflected Mr Turner's statement. Mark Turner has since informed us by email on August 14, 2013, that he has no evidence that either kingpost on Oracle 5 Coutts was modified."

Oracle now want the Coutts boat reinstated in the ACWS. But if they knew the boat was not involved, why did they withdraw it in the first place?

Chronology of events

The chronology of how the cheating allegations unwound, committee error and all, is interesting. This is how the Herald understands events unfolded:

*July 26 - An America's Cup staff member advises that Ben Ainslie's forward kingpost was unusually heavy. The measurement committee inspected the boat and found irregularities
*Between July 26-31, several talks held with New Zealand's Mark "Tugboat" Turner, OTUSA's construction manager and Richard Slater, OTUSA's rules adviser.
*From those discussions, the measurement committee forms the opinion that Turner had told them that all three AC45s had irregularities. Oracle begin their internal investigation on July 27.
*The committee also understood that, on July 27, Turner confirmed to them that, to the best of his ability to determine, the modifications to boats 4 (Spithill's) and 5 (Coutts') had been made during or before the Newport ACWS regatta in June 2012.
*August 4 - OTUSA files a report to the international jury on the AC45s. In it, Slater clearly states that Turner's investigation points to all three OTUSA AC45s being involved.
*August 5 - Regatta director Iain Murray protests to the jury alleging breaches of the AC45 class rule based on measurement committee's report.
*August 7 - Ben Ainslie Racing withdraws from ACWS regattas held at San Francisco in August and September 2012 and at Naples in April this year.
*August 8 - OTUSA follow suit, also withdrawing the Coutts and Spithill boats from those regattas. OTUSA announces to the media what has happened.
*August 13 - The measurement committee inspects boats 4 and 5 ("to remove confusion") and finds no problems with Coutts' boat but a plastic bag full of ferrous material wedged in the kingpost of Spithill's.
*August 14 - Turner notifies the committee by email that he had had no evidence that any kingpost on Coutts' boat 5 was modified.

- NZ Herald

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