AC34: The Only Constant is Change
An America’s Cup that has already been marked by unprecedented change and tragedy remains very much in a state of flux—and seems destined to remain so until well into the Louis Vuitton challenger elimination series scheduled to begin July 7.
In the immediate wake of the May 9 death of Artemis strategist, British sailor Andrew “Bart” Simpson, America’s Cup Race Management (ACRM), the America’s Cup Event Authority (ACEA) and all four syndicates have found themselves walking a delicate line—on the one hand ensuring the regatta will go on as planned (or at least as close to planned as possible), on the other doing everything they can to ensure that an accident like the Artemis capsize doesn’t happen again.
With this in mind, on May 22 regatta director Iain Murray issued a set of 37 safety “recommendations,” which were soon accepted by both the Defender, Oracle Racing, and all three challengers, including Artemis, and will serve as a blueprint for additional changes moving forward.
The recommendations call for everything from the installation of belay points and handholds that “effectively restrain crew through bearing-off maneuvers, severe deceleration or capsize” to a 10-knot reduction in the maximum wind limit for racing, and the creation of a formal testing process to ensure there is adequate strength in each team’s hulls, daggerboard controls and wings. (To see the complete set of recommendations, click here)
The recommendations also call for the mark boats that were used throughout the America’s World Series to be replaced by “soft marks,” so there will be one less thing that could possibly cause serious damage and/or injury in a close rounding situation. In the event of a capsize, the boat still sailing will not be required to complete the course, but automatically be declared the winner.
One aspect of the recommendations that has prompted more than a little grumbling is a set of changes to the protocol and Louis Vuitton schedule that retains the regatta's original July 7 start date, but allow Artemis to abstain from racing until much later in the month.
Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) and Luna Rossa earlier suggested delaying the start of the regatta until July 19, at which point all three boats would be compelled to compete. But Challenger of Record Artemis vetoed the proposal, saying it needed more flexibility to ensure that its second boat—which it did not expect to launch until early July, was both safe and competitive. (To see the updated schedule, click here)
This prompted a flurry of charges and counter charges in which ETNZ managing director Grant Dalton first complained that the event was being geared to the needs of the “weakest common denominator,” after which Artemis shot back saying, “Dalton’s proposals benefit no team but his own, and his public insults are out of line and unsportsmanlike.”
ETNZ is also not happy with the reduction in the upper wind limit, with rules advisor Russell Green recently wondering “how the All Blacks (rugby team) would feel arriving at the World Cup…to find that there were last minute proposals to change basic rules of the game in the name of player’s safety, but which in effect favored the slower stop/start style of the Northern Hemisphere teams?”
One positive sign: in the weeks following Simpson’s death, Oracle, Luna Rossa and ETNZ all seem to be successfully coming to grips with how to handle their AC72s out on the wind-swept and dangerous racetrack that is San Francisco Bay. Hopefully this is a sign that in the end, all the sadness, pain and recrimination has thus far marked the 34th America’s Cup will someday actually result in some satisfying racing.