On the water Russell Coutts rarely makes a bad decision. He knows when to play it conservatively, and when to gamble. With the protocol for the 32nd America's Cup, which was released today by the Alinghi syndicate, he has diverged from the course of the last few America's Cups in many ways. It's a bit of a risk, but it's one he, along with Alinghi executive director Michel Bonnefous, rules advisor Hamish Ross and Challenger of Record representative Tom Ehman of Oracle, believe will pay off handsomely for the event. Coutts hopes to raise sailing's premier event to a new level, both in terms of competitiveness and world wide appeal. The protocol, which is published in full on the Alinghi website (www.alinghi.com), details an event that still follows the tried and true pattern of the America's Cup--a number of challengers battling for the right to face the defender for the Cup--but also has a number of new twists and tweaks.As expected, Alinghi has completely reworked the nationality rules. Sailors are free to sign up with any team they please and there is no residency requirement--Alinghi said it spent millions of dollars during this campaign to provide Swiss housing for sailors who were rarely in the country. Sailors may also switch teams unless they have sailed on a team's yacht within 18 months of the first race of the Match--the actual best-of-nine series between the challenger and the defender. Designers, defined as anyone who contributes to the development of an ACC hull, deck, cockpit, mast tube, rigging geometry, appendages, or sails, may only work for one syndicate per America's Cup cycle. There is a 90-day exemption for design personnel currently employed by existing syndicates.Alinghi has also made some significant changes to the rules regarding designs and intellectual property. To prevent situations such as the Sean Reeves/OneWorld fiasco and the fact that Oracle BMW Racing twice had a boat lose its keel because it couldn't receive the design information for an old boat; when any old boat is sold, it will be sold with all the relevant design information. In addition, design information from previous America's Cup campaigns will be able to be purchased by syndicates until Oct. 1, 2004, and designers will be able, according to the protocol, to take with them to a syndicate any intellectual property they gained while in the employ of another syndicate. Of course, this carrying of information could be restricted by the contract the individual signs with the syndicate.Equally as significant is the creation of a single, unbiased body to run both the challenger elimination series and the America's Cup. The Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) and the Challenger Commission will appoint a regatta director and a jury. The former will be given the task of running the regatta. He will appoint a race management committee, the measurement committee--subject to the approval of the America's Cup Class technical director--and the chief umpire. Perhaps most importantly, this director--along with virtually every other official connected with the match--will be governed by a Neutral Management Clause, requiring that "each act in the best interest of all the competitors," and "not favor the interests of the Defender of those of the Challengers nor the interests of the Challengers over those of the Defender." The jury will be comprised of five people appointed jointly by the SNG and the Challenger Commission and will take over the duties held this Cup by the International Jury and the America's Cup Arbitration Panel.The final change of note, for there are quite a few minor differences not mentioned here, will be the schedule of the regatta. The actual event will be shorter, two and a half months was the goal, but there will be a number of class events in the years leading up to the event. Included in this schedule is a fleet race just prior to the start of the challenger elimination series. The pre-regatta competitions, mostly fleet races with some match racing, will help seed the challengers into pools from where they will sail a round robin series. That series will reduce the number of teams down to eight who will then sail a knock-out tournament to pick the challenger for the America's Cup. The first event on the slate is an ACC regatta in San Francisco in the fall. This one will probably not have an impact on the seedings. Later events, however, will probably be held at the event site in Europe and will impact a syndicate's positioning for the first round of the challenger elimination series. The event site itself will be picked in the next nine months. Bids have already been made, said Bonnefous, and they will accept other bids for the next few weeks before starting an exhaustive search to pick the best site.The design rules will also be changed, probably to broaden the competitive range of the boats, Coutts mentioned legalizing a Code 0 for upwind legs in light air and strengthening the boats so they can race safely in 20 knots or more. As for the Hula? "From my point of view and from Alinghi's point of view," said Ross, "It'll be very strange if we see another Hula."