Yachting: How a NZ official stared down Alinghi team

By Dana Johannsen

New Zealand yachting official Harold Bennett faced extreme pressure as principal race officer in the America's Cup this week, as former Cup holders Alinghi tried to exert their influence.

It is understood the race committee, comprising members of Alinghi's representative yacht club, the Societe Nautique de Geneve, staged a mutiny before the start of the second race to prevent it from going ahead.

The start was delayed for four hours while officials waited for the wind to pick up. With the cut-off for the start looming, Bennett ordered the postponement flag down around 4pm local time, but the race committee refused.

It is believed SNG's race committee did not want to start the race, claiming the waves were in excess of 1m - Alinghi's sea state tolerance.

In an email to yachting colleagues yesterday, Bennett described the behaviour.

"I have never seen such disgraceful behaviour on a committee boat, trying to influence the PRO [principal race officer] to the point of ordering me to stop the [start] sequence," wrote Bennett.

Unwilling to back down, Bennett called on the help of Oracle's representative on his committee boat, Tom Ehman, plus a support boat driver who is also a qualified umpire, to run the start sequence. The race eventually began just five minutes before the deadline.

Oracle went on to claim their second straight win to snatch the Cup from the Swiss.

Monday was the last day a race could be run before several days of strong wind and dirty weather struck Valencia. Had the race failed to get under way it is likely the America's Cup would still be on hold.

Bennett, a highly experienced yachting official, was clearly furious about the attempted interference from the SNG and said he would have made a lot more of the situation had Oracle not wrapped up the best-of-three series on Monday.

"I can tell you if we had further races to do, those guys would have been left ashore and I would have picked up some more of my Spanish mates to do the start."

Before the regatta, both Alinghi and BMW Oracle Racing lobbied strongly to ensure the 33rd America's Cup would be raced in conditions that favoured their respective monster multihulls.

- NZ Herald

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