By HELEN TUNNAH
A spirited defence of the Hauraki Gulf as a sailing venue has been made by one of New Zealand's leading yachting officials amid overseas criticism of the America's Cup challengers' racing format and wind delays.
Bill Endean, commodore of the cup-holders, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, said the gulf was an exciting and challenging venue for racing, and it was "absurd" that syndicates were not sailing in normal local conditions.
"The challengers make the rules seemingly to suit themselves and best-equip themselves for a successful challenge," Endean said.
"But if they want to restrict themselves to a certain weather window, and in the process are getting it wrong, that's their problem. It's nothing to do with the defender."
International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge sparked debate about the challenger series when he queried why yachts were not racing in 25-knot winds.
While he acknowledged that the challengers set wind limits, Rogge also said the event should be sailed where winds were consistent.
"I understand the difficulties but I think the choice of location should be such that you don't have that ... because this is stopping the quality of the coverage."
Former Olympian Rogge had been due to sail with Alinghi while visiting Auckland, but the race was called off because of the high winds that also prevented sailing at the weekend.
About half the races in the challenger series have been postponed because of weather restrictions, usually high winds.
Increasing frustration at delays is being reflected in overseas media reports, but the lack of racing has been caused not only by the less flexible approach to measuring wind strength but by a new racing format that means far fewer races for the leading boats.
Alinghi have reached the Louis Vuitton final after sailing just 22 races, and could become Team New Zealand's challenger on the back of 27 races.
In the last cup there were three round-robins instead of two and a different semifinals system, so Prada had to sail 49 times to win the challenger series. Racing was also condensed into a shorter series three years ago.
Neither the yacht squadron nor Team New Zealand had a say in the new format or the wind limits agreed by the nine challengers.
By setting rigid wind limits, challengers aimed to recreate February sailing conditions, and by altering the race schedule they place less stress on their boats, sails and crew.
Endean said there were no wind limits for the America's Cup match beginning in mid-February, and in an El Nino summer, winds might not be light.
He said the difficulties of the situation struck him at the weekend as he watched P class and optimist yachts sailing on the gulf, while the challenger series was on hold.
"Here we have the grand prix of international sailing unable to race. It's nothing short of absurd."
The Hauraki Gulf was a more challenging location for the cup than past venues, such as San Diego, Endean said.
"It's not as if you're sailing off the coast of California where you can predict by your watch what the wind conditions are going to be at any time of day. It was so predictable as to become almost boring. Here it's so unpredictable as to become exciting."
Racing schedule, results and standings
By HELEN TUNNAH