Yachting: Kicked out - Heavy fall for de Ridder

By Paul Lewis

Olympian Dirk de Ridder is one of the world's premier wing trimmers.
Olympian Dirk de Ridder is one of the world's premier wing trimmers.

Three years ago, Dirk de Ridder was in the White House meeting President Barack Obama after helping to return the America's Cup to the USA.

Now he is out of the America's Cup for cheating, caught up in the illegal changes made to Oracle's AC45s.

De Ridder was in Jimmy Spithill's AC45 for the warm-up America's Cup World series and sailed in regattas around the world between 2011 and 2013, won both times by Spithill's AC45.

The jury decision said de Ridder "effectively gave instructions to Bryce Ruthenberg and Andrew Walker [the two Oracle shore crew members also excluded from this regatta] to add lead to the king post of boat 4, knowing this to be in contravention of the AC45 class rule".

"The instruction or direction may not have been explicit but it was such that Bryce and Andrew were left in no doubt they should carry out the work," the decision said.

The jury was satisfied he knew the weight had been added and was in breach. It was also satisfied he had not told the truth in the hearing.

"Dirk is a very successful and experienced sailor ... he has a reputation for attention to detail and a philosophy of many small increments having a significant effect on the performance of the boat. He is assertive by nature and respected by the shore crew."

It's a heavy fall for de Ridder, 40, a Dutch national known in yachting circles as "Cheese" who is one of the world's premier wing trimmers, a vital part of the Oracle crew.

Stepping in as wing trimmer will be Kyle Langford. The 24-year-old Australian was also found to be cheating but was spared a penalty in light of his age, inexperience, his truthfulness in the hearing and the fact that he had no involvement in the illegal modifications being done.

De Ridder and fellow team member Matt Mitchell are the first sailors to be ejected from the America's Cup for cheating.

But de Ridder's fall from grace is harder than most. Not only is he a well-known sailor in his own right, he is brother-in-law to canny Oracle tactician John Kostecki.

He is also a three-time round the world yachtsman - in the winning crew on the yacht illbruck in 2001 and a crewmate of Emirates Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton on the yacht Merit Cup in 1998 which came second. He also crewed on Pirates Of The Caribbean, skippered by another America's Cup veteran, Paul Cayard, which also finished second in the 2005-2006 race. De Ridder has also competed in the Olympics, coming fourth in Sydney in 2000 in the three-man Soling class.

De Ridder, Kostecki, Joey Newton, Piet van Nieuwenhuijzen and former Team NZ sailor Jonno Macbeth were among those included in Spithill's AC45 crew for different regattas, one of two AC45s Oracle fielded .

Ironically, in a video interview last year, de Ridder made comments underlining the sanctity of the one-design AC45s and how important it was to win the warm-up America's Cup World Series.

"These boats are one-design [meaning they are identical]; the only thing you are allowed to change is the sails - and if you look at the sizing and shapes of the sails, they are almost one-design as well.

"Everyone is very similar ... and we are all good sailors ... so racing is really good and winning is hard to do. You can easily get last or second to last."

Asked what it meant to Oracle to win, de Ridder said: "It is hugely important. We are here to compete and so are all the other teams; when you compete you are there to win ... we are taking it seriously."

The series was seen as part of the Cup, covered by the same rules. The placings would have decided seeding for the Louis Vuitton challenger series in the Cup proper - but there were not enough challengers for the America's Cup to warrant that.

This may not be the end of things for de Ridder. His national sailing association and the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) can impose further penalties. In the case of cheating on the Austrian yacht I-Punkt in the Admirals Cup of 1987, ISAF banned several sailors and owners for between one and 10 years.

Kiwi captain receives four race ban

Matt Mitchell, the Kiwi who infamously wielded the on-board toilet to bail out water from Emirates Team New Zealand's ill-fated yacht in the 2003 America's Cup, is one of the Oracle Team USA sailors thrown out of the 2013 regatta yesterday.

Mitchell - banned for four races - was one of two sailors and two shore crew excluded from the Cup yesterday after cheating allegations were heard by the America's Cup international jury. A fifth sailor was found to have been in breach of the rules but did not incur a penalty. A sixth was cleared.

Matt Mitchell. Photo / Chris Cameron
Matt Mitchell. Photo / Chris Cameron

There was a measure of sympathy for Mitchell from various quarters - perhaps illustrated by a jury ban for only four races instead of being expelled from the regatta totally, as three teammates were. A latecomer to Oracle, he had no experience in AC45s, did not know the class rule and accepted the tasks he had been given to do without question.

The jury said Mitchell was captain of the boat in question - that raced by British Olympic sailing ace Sir Ben Ainslie - and "he is currently an AC72 boat captain and AC34 is his fifth America's Cup campaign. It is difficult to accept that a person with Matt's experience would not have familiarised himself with the rules".

His four-race ban was also accompanied by a jury rider recommending that no further action be taken against him by either Yachting New Zealand or the International Sailing Federation (ISAF). The latter has the power to ban sailors from the sport and has banned cheats for between 1-10 years when an illegal ballast issue occurred in the Admirals Cup of 1987.

Ten years ago, Mitchell was on board NZL82, the yacht that defended the America's Cup in Auckland in 2003 but lost 5-0 to Russell Coutts' Alinghi crew. They included the then-controversial "tight five" who had defected from Team New Zealand after the 2000 campaign.

Mitchell later left Team NZ and also went to Alinghi in 2007, where he won the America's Cup for the second time. He joined Oracle Team USA for this campaign.

However, in 2003, Mitchell (now 41) was the man who could only find the on-board toilet to bail out water that swamped NZL82's chances in the first Cup race.

Team NZ had pushed their boat hard in about 25 knots of wind but started shipping water. That slowed the boat and added load caused gear failures - the boom snapped and then the headsail blew out and the Kiwis withdrew from the race. The fault in the boat allowed an alarming amount of water to flood in - estimates varied between up to five or six tons of water.

The fault in the boat was rectified but it and the team, led by current skipper Dean Barker, never recovered and were outpaced by Alinghi.

- NZ Herald

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