Yachting: Rumours of illegal alterations swirl amid the cheating allegations

By Paul Lewis, in San Francisco

It's all about the allegations of cheating.

Team New Zealand have called Oracle Team USA's protest for trespassing "laughable" but there isn't much to laugh about in this latest off-water scuffle in the America's Cup, perhaps especially for Italian syndicate Luna Rossa.

Oracle filed a protest to the America's Cup international jury that members of Emirates Team NZ and Luna Rossa had trespassed on an Oracle AC45 yacht in an attempt to gain information.

To understand what this is about, you have to know that there have been rumours abuzz in America's Cup and sailing circles that there may have been more allegedly illegal modifications to the Oracle AC45s than have come to light so far in the allegations of cheating.

These rumours haven't been reported because they are, well, rumours; there is no supporting evidence. But it became clear yesterday that Oracle think some Italian and New Zealand team members may have been crawling over their boats looking for evidence.

It's understood that no New Zealanders did so - but it is similarly understood that some Italians might have climbed on board.

However, there is a great deal of 'so what?' about the complaint and the two syndicates are not alone in suspecting diversionary tactics.

One of the reasons this protest may not get much air time in the jury room is that the AC45s were parked, on display, right on an easily accessible area of Piers 30-32 - which houses the Luna Rossa and Team NZ bases. They were being lined up for the Red Bull Youth America's Cup - a 10-boat regatta involving promising young sailors, beginning on September 1.

There would also be little or nothing for team members to find, especially as the boats had been cleaned up ready for the new regatta. Unlike the AC72s, the AC45s are identical - meaning anyone seeking information on boat build and design would be wasting their time. That's why Team NZ called the protest "laughable", implying that the protest seemed to be an attempt to embroil competitors - particularly Emirates Team NZ - in the same sort of strife enveloping the Oracle team at present; or a diversionary tactic.

Oracle are facing jury hearings on August 27 that could spell the end of the regatta for some team members and/or the team being so heavily penalised that Emirates Team NZ could enter the America's Cup match facing a foe that has had points or races docked.

"Desperate people do desperate things," said one America's Cup source.

Certainly "trespass" seems a quaint notion in circumstances where the boats are laid out in the competitors' backyard, on display. The complaint pertains to the reconnaissance provisions of the America's Cup Protocol - which lays down strict guidelines on what competitors can and can't do with rivals' boats.

Oracle may yet be proven to have a legitimate gripe - though it's understood Team NZ's people were only near the AC45s to give assistance to the Yachting New Zealand crew taking part in the Youth America's Cup and did not touch the AC45s in question.

It would not be beyond the realms of possibility that Italian or Kiwi team members, seeing the AC45s on hand, might decide to have a look at the objects of so much discussion in this America's Cup. But is that trespass?

It seems an odd protest at a time when Oracle are facing a much bigger issue. It also does not gel with the philosophy espoused by CEO Russell Coutts, who recently said: "Anyway, I don't bother much with all that rules stuff. The winner of the America's Cup always has the fastest boat or the best crew or a combination of both. That's what I spend my time on."

- NZ Herald

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