It’s safe to say that at this point, the 34th America’s Cup is a shambles.
What was supposed to have been a waterborne extravaganza celebrating all things AC has thus far only resulted in a single AC 72—Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ)—sailing a pair of what are essentially uncontested practice races on Sunday and Tuesday for points.
No opening fleet race featuring all competitors, no sign of Team Artemis’ second boat and no sign of Luna Rossa, which is still boycotting the racing in protest against regatta director Iain Murray’s decision to allow changes to the rules governing the winglets on the AC72’s rudders.
Although Murray has said the changes are necessary to promote safety in the wake of the fatal Artemis capsize, Luna Rossa (and ETNZ) maintains it provides a competitive advantage to the defender, Oracle USA, which has apparently not been able to fully foil as well using winglets mandated by the original rules.
In a statement shortly before the starting gun of what was supposed to be its first race in the Louis Vuitton challenger series on Sunday, Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena said: “I want to clarify the reason for which we are not racing today. As everybody knows we have protested the introduction of new Class Rules without the unanimous agreement of the competing teams. By racing under these rules, enforced by the Regatta Director with Race Notices 185 and 189, we would somehow silently approve them. This is not the case. Therefore we have no choice but to stay ashore until the International Jury has reached a decision on the matter. We have been forced into this position. We did not come to San Francisco to watch races, but to race.”
In response, America’s Cup CEO Stephen Barclay said, “This isn’t unexpected, but it’s still disappointing…. What I don’t understand is they sailed Saturday, they say they will sail if they win or lose the protest, but they just won’t sail against Emirates Team New Zealand on Sunday.”
At press time, a final jury decision was expected some time the middle of this week. The next scheduled race is this Thursday between Luna Rossa and Artemis. Whether Luna Rossa will take a practice lap for points remains uncertain. (There’s no chance Artemis will go sailing.)
The next scheduled meeting between ETNZ and Luna Rossa is Saturday, July 12.
The good news is that ETNZ has now made it around the course in one piece on two separate occasions, sailing in winds ranging throughout the high-teens and clocking speeds of 40-plus knots downwind and 20-plus knots to windward. They didn’t even need to unroll any of their reaching sails to do so.
The other good news is that San Francisco Bay has indeed proved to be a magnificent venue for this kind of racing. Granted, the crowds looked pretty thin on opening day, but can you blame them? Hopefully, in the course of what will, one way or the other, be a very long summer of race, the four teams taking part will give them a reason to attend in the numbers originally anticipated—and that by the time we finally get to the finals in September, the current shambles that is the 34th America’s Cup will be a distant memory.