There could be some belching around the America's Cup table, in San Francisco before teams fully digest, and maybe sign-off, the 37 recommendations served up by the America’s Cup Regatta Director, Iain Murray yesterday.
The recommendations come on the back of a fatal accident on the Swedish AC72, Artemis, and triggered the commissioning of a six person panel, by event organisers - current holder of the America's Cup, or the America’s Cup Trustee, and for this Defence is the Golden Gate Yacht Club.
The public face of the organising body for the on the water racing is America’s Cup Regatta Management, headed by Iain Murray, who also chaired the Review Panel established soon after the death of double British Olympic Medallist, Andrew Simpson, on May 9.
Murray and the Review Committee have been sharing their desk with the US Coast Guard for the past week, as it is the USCG’s responsibility to issue Special Local Regulations and an Event Permits to allow the America’s Cup Regatta to take place.
Worst case scenario is that the USCG could decide the whole thing was seriously flawed, the AC72’s dangerous, and decide to shut the Regatta down. They have that power.
That won’t happen according to Golden Gate Yacht Club Vice Commodore, Tom Ehman. 'They have been part of this process, and have told us that they like these Recommendations, and we fully expect that they will approve them.'
There may be some adjustments required by the USCG. 'But we understand they like the process, they like the Recommendations, and we expect that sometime in June – which was always in the schedule – that they will be issuing our Event Permit.'
'The Coast Guard weren’t a member of the Review Committee, but they did second Lieutenant Jon Lane to us, as an Advisor and Liaison, he in turn had also been working with long-time San Francisco race officer John Craig, and there was already a long and strong relationship in place.'
John Craig will also be the Principal race Officer for the America’s Cup. He too was a member of the Review Committee and also reports to Iain Murray.
The terms of reference for the Review Committee charged it with reviewing 'the safety of training and racing of AC72 yachts on San Francisco Bay. The scope of the review, and subsequent recommendations is not limited.' By definition the Review Committee were not charged with conducting an inquiry into the causes of the Artemis incident, except where there were general lessons for the AC72 fleet or event.
Non-Negotiable? According to Ehman all the Recommendations are part of a safety plan for the event, and as such are non-negotiable by the teams, since safety will not be compromised.
The Recomendations will call for signifcant changes to LiveLine to use inflatable marks and show their position very accurately for umpiring purposes - the key thrust of the LiveLine system is to overlay graphics on top of live video and for those graphics to be accurately positioned and proportioned - Americas Cup Media Click Here to view large photo
Team insiders spoken to by Sail-World don’t quite see it that way, splitting the Recommendations into three areas – those that involve modification to the AC72 Class Rule which governs the measurement and design of the 72ft wingsailed catamaran that will be sailed for the first time in the 34th America’s Cup. Changes to that AC72 rule can only be done with the consent of all the teams – a simple majority is not enough.
A second group of recommendations are the changes to the Protocol, which governs the rules under which the racing for the America’s Cup and Louis Vuitton Cup’s will be conducted. Changes to the Protocol can be made by the Regatta Director after a majority vote by the Teams.
The third group is Safety Rules, which can be set arbitrarily by the Regatta Director, and to which his officials and the teams, where they are affected, must comply.
Under Ehman’s logic all the 37 Recommendations come under the Safety category, and are not subject to any negotiation or amendment. 'As for whether there will be votes on Class Rule amendments and Protocol Amendments - No. These Recommendations will become Rules.'
'These are Safety Recommendations by the Regatta Director, and they will become part of the regatta permit and therefore Rules.' He adds that until that formal process is concluded by the Coast Guard, the recommendations are just that, and are for the guidance of teams during the training period now under way.
'The Coast Guard needs to ensure that the field of play is safe, that it is safe for the competitors, and also that the event is conducted safely for spectators as well. It is concerned with the overall safe conduct of the event.'
Ehman's view aside, the bulk of the recommendations actually do fall under the Safety category and many don’t directly affect the teams at all, such as whether mark boats are used, as currently, or inflatable marks as recommended for race management - evidence that the Review Committee has looked beyond just the Artemis and Oracle incidents.
Ehman says most of the cost of the Recommendations will fall on the Organisers. These include having to devise ways of adopting LiveLine, the GPS based tracking system used for umpiring and television to run off the power available within an inflatable mark for GPS positioning. 'There are requirements of the Organising Committee, that are onerous, but at the end of the day it is safety first,' he adds.
Wind limit reduction no surprise The process to be followed by the Coast Guard is to either approve or reject America's Cup Regatta Management's application (through the Golden Gate Yacht Club). 'They don't dictate,' explains Ehman.
Essentially what is being lodged is a Safety Plan, and it is against that laudable backdrop that some of the Recommendations are curious.
The reduction in wind limits will also go through, despite being a 10knot reduction over the ridiculously high figure previously set of 33kts. 'We wondered how it would take them to wake up to that one,' Emirates Team NZ's Grant Dalton remarked in a television news interview.
The new wind limit of 20kts for the Louis Vuitton Cup Round Robins creeping to 23 kts for the America’s Cup Match will still need a Protocol change. The new limit is a couple of knots below the international standard used in the Olympics and World Championships. Although it applies before the start only, the racing can still be cancelled after the race has started for safety issues.
Even with the reduction in the wind limit, the AC72's in just 20kts of breeze will be sailing at around 40kts, and dropping the wind limit won't have slowed the boats at all. 'The boats are going to be still plenty powered up, but they are not going to be over powered by as much as they would if they were racing in 33kts of wind,' says Ehman.
Contrary to other reports the lower wind limit for the regatta has not changed – and cannot except by a majority vote of the teams. Of some concern is the ability to have variable start times, possibly based on forecasts but also with the perspective that one team might try an influence the start time to get 'their' conditions.
Ehman points out that if the teams do have concerns in that respect, all they have to do is to get together as sort out a new and stronger lower wind limit. 'It is not a safety issue,' he adds.
Safety certification not simple The structural certification by an external body on the platform and wingsails, did raise some eyebrows as to how that would practically happen.
Normally it is very difficult to obtain such certification, without the certifying body such as Lloyds, being present during the whole build process to check and test what has gone into the construction and then being able to test the calculations independently before issuing a certificate. Core samples need to be taken and so on.
Being presented with a boat and asking if it will break, is a lot harder question than it sounds. Getting external engineering signoff will be interesting the current track record in the AC 72 class, which stands at three broken wingsails, and two broken platforms - out of seven wingsails and five platforms used.
Without putting too fine a point on it, there should be a lot of destruction test data available.
Note too, that there is a question of liability attached to any sign-off. Such a risk caused the Review Committee to swerve away from making Recommendations as asked, leaving that task was left to Regatta Director, Iain Murray to sweep the proposals and discussions together into the document, which listed the Recommendations and was published yesterday.
Similarly in the requirement to get certification of daggerboard rake and reliability, given the daggerboards are housed in hydraulically adjustable cases. Aside from the highly experienced team engineers and designers themselves - who knows what the loads really are, understands the systems, and can certify the safe operating limits lie?
The point being that the AC72 is a highly experimental boat, and is the leading (some would say bleeding) edge sailing technology. Each team has had some 30 top designers working on the various projects since October 2010.
Many would question as to how an external certification organisation could come in and reliably sign off off AC72 structures and systems with just 40 days remaining to the start of the regatta. While they may be able to determine what is safe, and that appropriate margins are built in, the thrust of the teams has been to build a safe boat that is light and fast and can be sailed in the prescribed wind strengths. Obviously some have succeeded better at that endeavour than others.
In short, the engineers are going to be asked to certify racing equipment where light weight is paramount, and not a charter cruiser, which can afford the luxury of being overbuilt.
Elevating the Rudder The most curious of the changes lies in the Recommendation 1.3 Rudder Elevators. These are the winglets attached to the ends of the rudders and look similar to the tail flaps on a plane, or adjustable spoilers on the back of a race car.
The term is a new one in the Class Rule, in other words, Rudder Elevators didn't previously exist in the AC72 Class Rule. They do rate a mention in Rule 8.6 which says that trim tabs or moveable winglets, which can be adjusted while racing, are prohibited. No size or dimensions are set on these.
The Recommendation (introduced under the guise of safety) does set some parameters for so-called Rudder Elevators of area and (wing) span and minimum depth below the boat.
It also allows these to be adjusted before the warning signal for the race, but can’t be adjusted in the race itself.
One would have thought that if such features were a safety device that they could have been deployed during the bear away maneuver which has triggered both capsizes to date. Effectively to do a hand-brake turn at the top of the course.
The rudder elevators may have been able to be pulled on in such as way as to try and reduce bow-down trim which would reduce the chances of a pitch-pole. But that is not the case under this Recommendation – which only permits the elevator to be set several minutes before the start, and the crews would then have to suffer the drag of the preset elevator for the remainder of the race, creating drag and slowing the boats.
To bring such a change in just 40 days before racing is very significant for the Challengers. The Defender Oracle Team USA is believed to have had the rudder devices fitted for some time. Nothing illegal about that as the AC72's are just in test mode, but as the rules currently stand they mist be removed to race in the match in September.
With one other exception, the other Recommendations should pass through without significant comment or alteration.
That is the requirement for 'Soft coverings and soft fairings to be made of predominantly of see-through/transparent material.' This apparent safety requirement is so that crew can be seen underneath the wingsails in the event of capsize. Of course it greatly affects the likes of Emirates Team NZ with a solid colour wingsail, which displays substantial sponsor signage. Changing that with the stroke of a pen, will cause indigestion in those charged with managing team sponsorship arrangements and their attendant signage agreements.
Whether the Louis Vuitton logo will be allowed to remain at the top of the wingsails, is another source of contention created by this Recommendation.
Applying the same logic to soft sails, will be an interesting exercise, if attempted.
Another question that has been raised, with the reduction of the sailing days, and the fact that some have already paid for season tickets, will there be a refund?
Ehman defers to a member of the America's Cup Events Authority, who are working in conjunction with the Giants baseball team who have been working with ACEA on ticketing matters.
In terms of the inquiries running, Ehman says the Review Committee will not be producing any findings as to the cause of the Artemis incident. Neither was it asked to in its terms of reference.
That matter will be covered by two other ongoing inquiries, being those run by the San Francisco Police Department in conjunction with the Medical Examiner. The SFPD investigates when there is a fatality in its jurisdiction and the Medical Examiner performs a similar function to a Coroner. Surprisingly Ehman said that both were expected to report in a week to 10 days, and both would be publicly open documents subject to standard restrictions. That is remarkably fast by the standards applying in any other jurisdiction.
Artemis Racing, is conducting its own inquiry into the incident and causes from a structural and design perspective. There has been no comment as to when that process will be concluded, whether there will be a publicly released report, and to what extent the information will be shared with other teams.
Three of the America’s Cup teams sailed on San Francisco Bay, today, under ideal sailing conditions, without incident.