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America’s Cup 34: On the Brink

Whether the Louis Vuitton Cup ends before it starts will come down to a decision by the Italians tomorrow whether to race or not.

July 6, 2013
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Sailing World

Americas Cup

The opening Skippers Conference of the 34th America’s Cup was brief and somber, with Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena commanding the focus. ACEA/Abner Kingman

Midway through the opening Skippers’ Press Conference this morning, Luna Rossa’s Max Sirena rose from his chair, turned to his right, and shook hands with America’s Cup Regatta Director Iain Murray, making a clear gesture to the audience that no ill will exists between the two gentlemen. The outstanding protest lodged earlier in the week by the Italian challenger against Murray could very well derail the Louis Vuitton Cup series, leaving a gaping hole in the much touted America’s Cup Summer of Sail, but both parties seem intent on standing their ground.

It’s nothing personal Sirena re-iterated in response to the expected barrage of questions from reporters. The protest is one of principle, he said, one of reversing the act of “changing the class rules days before the first race.”

And this was the dark and somber tone of the conference, egged on by a statement issued earlier in the morning by Artemis Racing CEO Paul Cayard. Virtually silent and absent from the spotlight since his team’s fatal capsize, Cayard issued a missive to clear up what he claimed erroneous statements over the past few days.

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“When you are as busy as we are, you don’t have time to get involved in media and spin,” he wrote. “Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa have lodged protests over two of the 37 recommendations and seek for these two Safety Recommendations to be eliminated. The two rules are permissive rules. They work hand in hand with other rules, which place new requirements on the size of the elevators. The inclusion of these rules excludes no one. Yet, excluding these rules, and keeping the other 35, will exclude Artemis Racing.

“On May 24, in good faith, Artemis Racing began modifications on one set of its rudders and elevators to comply with the Safety Recommendations. These are long lead-time projects. So now Artemis Racing has two sets rudder elevators: one that complies with the Safety Recommendations in their entirety, and one that complies with the rules as they were before the Safety Recommendations were issued. Artemis Racing cannot comply with the third case, which ETNZ and LR are now trying to force on the competition.

“The fact is that if ETNZ and LR get what they want, Artemis Racing will be excluded from competition.”

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The timing of the International Jury’s hearing, scheduled for Monday, July 8, doesn’t jive with the racing schedule, which has the Italians squaring off against their New Zealand training mates in the first race of the Louis Vuitton Cup round robins. While the two teams share essentially identical designs, the New Zealanders have shown to be far superior, especially in executing maneuvers.

An anonymous source from within the defender camp says a new set of foils for the Italians hasn’t helped, either, as the New Zealanders were “constantly waiting” for them while training on San Francisco Bay last week. It’s universally accepted that Luna Rossa doesn’t stand a chance against the Kiwis should they actually race on Sunday.

When asked whether Luna Rossa would race in advance of the jury’s hearing, Sirena said the decision would come on Saturday, when it’s believed syndicate CEO Patrizio Bertelli will be arriving in San Francisco. Sentiment around the America’s Cup Park is that the Italians are completely unpredictable, especially Bertelli, who could very well scuttle the program and pull out on pride alone, should the jury decide in Murray’s favor. That’s unlikely, however, said Sirena, because the team has invested a lot thus far.

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Either way, Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker confidently confirmed his team would be on the water on Sunday to collect points and get more experience on the AC racecourse itself. With the scheduled AC72 Time Trials cancelled due to a high wind forecast, ENTZ will be the first to sail the course on an official race day.

With Artemis racing not scheduled to be finished with the build of its second AC72 for several weeks—followed by several days of structural testing—the July and early August racing schedule will essentially be training and sparring days for the highly favored New Zealand challenge. Barring a major accident, they’re guaranteed a place in the Louis Vuitton Finals. “If you don’t turn up, you don’t win races,” said Murray at the conference. “[If] you don’t get points, you don’t win the America’s Cup.”

The casualty in all of this is, of course, Louis Vuitton, which has a significant presence here in San Francisco, as well as a historically vested interest in the Challenger series. Louis Vuitton will celebrate its 30-year association with the America’s Cup at an exclusive soiree, held at a secret location this weekend, and it could very well be the only celebration party worth throwing until the Cupmatch itself gets underway nearly two months from now.

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