America's Cup: Race chief hints at rule change

By Paul Lewis

Team NZ crew put a brave face on their disappointment after losing to Oracle in race 13. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Team NZ crew put a brave face on their disappointment after losing to Oracle in race 13. Photo / Brett Phibbs

'Maybe it is something the America's Cup has to have a look at in the future - longer time limits or no time limits."

That was the assessment of regatta director Iain Murray after yet another of sailing's rules pulled the rug out from under Emirates Team New Zealand's feet yesterday.

They were at one stage 1500m ahead in race 13 which definitely turned out to be "lucky for some". Specifically, Oracle Team USA.

Most of the country will have assumed Team NZ were about to take that last, short but giant step to claiming the 34th America's Cup.

They will have thought the team were on the way to glory - until the commentators told them the race was close to being called off because of the time limits.

It was the third time Team NZ have been ahead only for the race to be called off each time.

In the lightest breezes of the regatta, race 13 - and the Kiwis - fell foul of the rule that all races must be completed within 40 minutes.

It seems a nonsense - that amount of time to complete a course which has been covered easily within 30 minutes and for which the course record so far is just over 21 minutes. It seems a nonsense too as San Francisco's wonderful sailing winds always blow. Except for yesterday.

The problem is that 72-foot foiling cats optimised to go faster than a scalded cat go about as fast as Garfield the cat when there is little wind. Those foils which make them go so fast and so compelling to watch make them float like a fruit cake in light airs.

Still, there's something wrong with a rule that doesn't allow a race to finish when 9 knots of wind is blowing. At times, the boats touched on and over 20 knots. The minimum wind limit for the match is 5 knots but what is the point of time limits that won't even let the race finish in 9 knots?

Time limits have been a part of regattas almost since yacht racing began and have been a part of the America's Cup for aeons. But they are generally there for days when there is no wind and sailors sit around on yachts drifting aimlessly.

Murray said the time limits were part of the rules agreed by the teams pre-regatta; agreement which included the type of course, the schedule, the number of races in a day and the wind limits.

"Time limits have always been a part of yacht racing; they have been there since I started and are designed to make sure a race progresses."

Murray also made the point that time had been lost at the start when Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill luffed Dean Barker and ETNZ, pushing them out to starboard in a slow-motion cat and mouse game to be first round the reaching mark.

"The problem is that you've got those foils and, when the wind isn't blowing, they turn into underwater passengers ... they don't help then. So there's no free lunch. You can get up and get foiling without much wind but if there's not enough wind to make them go, then you have problems.

"It's not a safety issue," said Murray of the time limit. "They could be adjusted. The minimum wind limits and the time limits do not necessarily correlate."

"It doesn't seem quite right, said ETNZ skipper Barker. "That is not going to work out if you start racing in 5 knots - it would be difficult to make it work."

- Herald on Sunday

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