Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

America's Cup: Winds threaten Team NZ's final push

Emirates Team New Zealand.
Emirates Team New Zealand.

The Louis Vuitton finals could be due for another frustrating series of delays this weekend, but an inflexible schedule means race organisers are powerless to do much to prevent them.

Team New Zealand's hopes of closing out the finals against Luna Rossa tomorrow have taken a dent, with winds of up to 30 knots forecast for the afternoon - well above the 21-knot limit.

It follows a series of disruptions to the programme earlier in the week, when organisers could get through only one of the two scheduled races of each of the first three days as the wind strength on San Francisco Bay increased later in the afternoon.

With the forecast for tomorrow not looking promising, regatta director Iain Murray indicated this week that a decision might be made to call the racing off before the boats have even left the dock.

"We're very much looking at the forecast for the weekend and trying to make a pragmatic decision on us not going out there and taking boats to sea," said Murray.

Every time the AC72s head out on the water there are huge costs involved and not just for the teams. The race committee have numerous support boats out on the course, while the technology used by host broadcasters ACTV, from which the umpiring system is also run, requires four helicopters to be in the air during races. Murray, who declined to put a figure on the cost to organisers of running a race day, said he was mindful of the expense when making a call on whether to send the boats out on the race course.

"Every time these boats go out to sea there is the chance of an issue or a breakage so we very much try to minimise that, we also try to look at the great expense of going to sea. We have fantastic support from the Coastguard and we don't want to waste resources. There are so many things that need to be mitigated and we try to look at the best possible solution."

Given race management had seen the potential for further hold-ups earlier in the week, it begs the question why they didn't attempt to push races through during yesterday's rest day, or add a second race to the schedule today.

It seems like a simple enough solution, but the reality is, getting teams to agree to that solution is anything but simple. Given the schedule and race times were agreed upon by the teams 12 months ago, any changes would require the co-operation of all the teams - something this Cup has not been known for.

"Trying to get the teams to mutually agree on a lot of things has proven quite difficult. To change the schedule - something that was negotiated over three days in Newport over a year ago - to have any discussion about it has been a waste of people's time to date," said Murray.

It is for this reason Murray has also been unable to reach a consensus for bringing the start times forward, given the winds typically pick up later in the day.

You can't really blame the teams for not wanting to move the start times forward - they have built and optimised their boats according to the wind limit of 33 knots set down in the protocol, which was later significantly reduced as part of Murray's safety revisions. To have the start time change, which would probably mean sailing in even lighter winds, would mean Team NZ would have to concede further ground.

Today's reserve day has been called into use, with organisers still one race behind schedule. But just as they clear the backlog they are likely to find themselves playing catch-up again should tomorrow's forecast prove accurate.

- NZ Herald

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