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America's Cup- Barclay expects Cup to proceed as planned

by Richard Gladwell on 14 May 2013
A meeting of the four America’s Cup teams will take place on May 14, in San Francisco Guilain Grenier Oracle Team USA © http://www.oracleteamusamedia.com/

Reports from San Francisco say that America's Cup CEO Stephen Barclay Barclay is confident regatta director Iain Murray will take every step to ensure the America's Cup goes ahead, and does so as safely as possible.

'I have every expectation that the event will proceed as planned. But I'm going to give Iain Murray the time he needs to really look at it with his expert panel and get it right.'

While Regatta Director iain Murray had not yet met with Luna Rossa and Emirates Team NZ, that was expeted to happen ahead of a formal meeting with all four teams on May 14, local time.

The meeting was originally intended to be a regular one to discuss technical issues with the America's Cup, but has been handed a new agenda after the Artemis incident last Thursday.

The options facing Murray and his team don’t seem to be that extensive.

At the heart of the issue is the fact that the AC72 sails at twice the speed of the wind.

Even if it was felt that boat speed was an issue, the fact remains that the boat can sail at 20kts in just 10kts of wind, and a wind limit of 10 or 15kts giving 30kts of boatspeed) in a venue selected for its strong steady breezes, would make a nonsense of the event.

Currently the Protocol specifies that unless the Race Officer considers conditions too rough that races will start when the 'average true wind speed' is between 5-33kts for the match and 5 – 28kts for the Louis Vuitton Cup Final, and 5-25kts for the other racing in the Louis Vuitton Cup.

[Sorry, this content could not be displayed] Note those speeds are an average before the start, meaning that gusts could be significantly higher, and that the rules don’t cover wind strengths after the start, other than what is contained in the racing Rules themselves for abandonment of a race.

To put those strengths in another light, at a media conference on Friday, Regatta Director Iain Murray said last week’s capsize occurred in winds of just 18kts.

But even so expect the top end of the permitted wind strength to be reduced, probably to the levels of the Louis Vuitton Cup qualifiers.

Emirates Team NZ have sailed frequently in the Hauraki Gulf in winds well in excess of 30kts, without significant incident.

This correspondent sailed at speeds of 43 knots on Emirates Team NZ's AC72 in 25kts of breeze, for around three hours. The catamaran felt very safe and controlled, and was a much better ride than sailing in a racing keelboat in that wind strength.

Unable to be towed downwind

It would seem likely that while good safety measures have been put in place following the Oracle incident October 2012 those measures will be revisited, particularly in the eventuality of the AC72 breaking up during the course of a capsize.

One area that does not seem to have been addressed is a means of the AC72’s exiting the course if there is a sudden increase in wind strength, and the return home is sailing downwind. A situation which typically occurrs as the AC72's sail upwind into an increasing breeze, before having to head back.

Currently the only option is to head downwind and hope for the best.

On conventionally rigged boats, catamarans or monohulls, the option is to drop sail and be towed or motor home.

But on a wingsailed catamaran, the wingsail cannot be lowered, and being towed downwind, in strong winds, does not seem to be an option.

On one training session Emirates Team NZ were caught on the fringes of a weather system which caused caused tornados and three deaths on a building site in Auckland. Their only option was to take shelter behind an island as wait for the wind to abate, or take a risky sail ride downwind – which they did the 11nm in 19 minutes for an average speed of 35kts which included three gybes.

It is an experience they would proably not care to repeat, and was done in one of the last sails in their first AC72.

The waters of the Huaraki Gulf are much more open water than San Francisco Bay. Clearly the teams and race officials will have share information, so as to be able to give an alternative to the high speed bear away - the point of sailing which has triggered both the Oracle and Artemis incidents.

The elephant in the room is the issue of foiling, which ironically the AC72 Class Rule was originally intended to only permit in a rather limited way. But Emirates Team NZ designers were able to find a loophole in the rules which both allowed foiling in single digit windstrengths, and greatly improved the stability of their 72ft catamaran in strong winds.

Oracle Team USA are expected to be the first team to resume sailing, later this week, with Luna Rossa maybe being the second, dependent on a decision within the team. Emirates Team NZ have not given any indication that they will be deviating from their originally scheduled date of May 23.

Changes for the Red Bull Youth America's Cup?
There has been no comment made as to whether there will be changes to the Red Bull Youth America's Cup as a result of the two incidents in the larger AC72's. The Red Bull Youth America's Cup, attracted huge interest from teams of young sailors and countries wishing to compete, and will be sailed in the smaller, one design AC45 catamarans, which have capsized numerous times in the America's Cup World Series and in training.

To date there have been no serious injuries, however while the boats have sustain some damage, none have broken up on impact, as happened in the Artemis incident, and over a slower period in the Oracle incident.

However the fact remains that the competitors in the Red Bull Youth America's Cup are far more inexperienced than the crews sailing the larger AC72's. Russell Coutts being a case in point with a spectacular capsize in San Francisco which made world headlines, and the four times America's Cup winner narrowly avoided serious injury as he leapt through the carbon framed wingsail.

As we have seen in the past week, one incident can make a huge difference to the attention focus on the America's Cup.

In the week previous people were bidding in excess of $20,000 for a ride in an AC72, and the amount of TV time the Challengers were going to received in the Louis Vuitton Cup was being hotly and publicly argued.

Now the focus has shifted completely to safety, and whether the measures in place for the event, and if the AC72 itself should be used.

Some of those answers will start to emerge after Wednesday's meeting of the teams.

To view the TV3 report http://tinyurl.com/cs4bw62!click_here

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