How do you know the America's Cup has started? When fur flies and the air is filled, not with the sound of music, but expletives delivered with the aid of the stabbing finger of blame.
Yes, most of the race boats have now been launched but the Cup isn't the Cup unless opposing sailing camps are verbally tearing at each other's throats – like the daft clash ruling out courses B and C, the only places where spectators can gather on land to watch races otherwise only visible on TV.
In the tangled mass of rules, regulations, lawyer-language restrictions, rampant paranoia and nationalism surrounding the America's Cup, common sense sometimes gets lost at sea.
So here's a prediction: racing will take place on courses B and C. The various parties – and there are boatloads of bureaucrats, not just sailing teams, involved – will sort it out and spectators will be able to gather on North Head, Takapuna beach and other vantage points to watch what should be high-speed, unique racing by the AC75s.
It's not worth delving too deeply into the rights and wrongs of this spat. To shorthand matters, challenger of record Luna Rossa (supported by the British and American challengers) felt Team New Zealand would gain an advantage by sailing more on courses B and C than Luna Rossa and other challengers could. TNZ said it had all been agreed previously.
The Italians protested to the Cup's arbitration panel, who stipulated that, if there isn't equal access, there is no access – so bye-bye courses B and C. It means racing will be held only on the other three courses which means, in turn, the Port of Auckland will probably have to be closed on more days. See why this might get sorted out?
For those wondering why the two courses are important if three others can be used, it's also about the wind, or lack of it. The last time New Zealand hosted the America's Cup (in 2003), 10 days of sailing were lost after the challenger series (nine challengers in those days) was hit by windless day after windless day – with frustrated, angry sailors returning to base just in time to see the wind spring up after "racing" was called off.
The five courses have been selected so one or more are available, taking into account various likely sea and wind factors.
So let's not go into all the arguments of who did what and who said what and when. Suffice to say that it blew up from two human emotions – FOMO and competitiveness, which spills over into mind games, common occurrences in America's Cups.
It's the personnel and the feeling underneath all the rules and regulations that makes it interesting. For example, Luna Rossa hired Brad Butterworth, the multiple-Cup-winning sailor, as their External and Institutional Relations Officer (whatever that means) who has headed the Italians' public utterances on the courses saga.
Butterworth is a brilliant sailor, a four-time Cup winner, and he and TNZ boss Grant Dalton are about as friendly as Rudy Giuliani and Borat. It's not hard to imagine Butterworth's job description containing clauses like this: "Needle Dalton as much as possible; stick a lighted match in his ear, insult his motorbike, take advantage of the recent bad publicity involving their funding, so-called "whistleblowers" and government departments – anything that will turn public and media opinion against him, distract him from the Cup and allow Luna Rossa more control of the regatta."
Local gossip has it that control is what Luna Rossa's boss, Prada tycoon Patrizio Bertelli, really wants – and thought he had when he agreed his syndicate would become challenger of record. Those close to TNZ say that is primarily what's behind the fractured relationship between TNZ and Luna Rossa; while the Challenger of Record is quite entitled to stick their oar in, the feeling is they have been stirring with it more than is strictly necessary.
The courses dispute has clearly angered Dalton, himself a boundary-pusher as a challenger - partly because it threatens his legacy and the loss of ground that could accommodate a claimed 30,000 crowd.
This event has already suffered badly from Covid-19; most of the superyachts aren't coming; the gazillions of dollars the regatta was supposed to generate has gone from a treasure trove to about the size of a small piggy bank, metaphorically speaking. The prospect of the government pouring huge money into the next America's Cup (if TNZ retains it) looks a bit sick in these Covid-affected times.
Dalton wants Auckland to be looking its best and the harbour to resemble a giant yacht racing stadium, full of people, and for the TV images beamed around the world to demonstrate the advantages of holding an America's Cup regatta. Without courses B and C, the cameras will be looking at a lot of, well, water.
This is also important because, if there is a next time and not enough local funding to hold the Cup regatta here, TNZ could be forced to look at an America's Cup staged at an overseas venue.
So while the courses dispute could be called an unimportant distraction, it has some import behind it. Hostilities have commenced, even before all race boats are even in the water.