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America's Cup: Wind limits dispute headed for Arbitration Panel

by richard Gladwell/ 21 Dec 2019 14:28 PST
Te Aihe, Emirates Team New Zealand's first AC75 training in fresh conditions at The Paddock © Emirates Team New Zealand

The Challenger of Record and the Defender of the America's Cup have failed to agree on the Match Conditions for the 2021 regatta, and it appears the matter will now have to be referred to the Arbitration Panel for Mediation and resolution.

The two teams involved, Challenger of Record, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and Emirates Team New Zealand have been unable to agree on the wind limits that should apply for the America's Cup Match, and the Preliminary Regattas.

The Protocol governing the 36th America's Cup events requires that the Match Conditions be agreed and finalised on or before yesterday, December 20, 2019.

Emirates Team New Zealand wants a maximum windstrength of 24kts to be used in the procedure which determines whether racing will start.

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli is seeking a wind limit of 22 knots for the America's Cup itself, and just 20 knots for the Challenger Selection Series, or Prada Cup. It was a low wind limit of just 19kts for the 2002/03 Louis Vuitton Cup in Auckland that caused over a third of the race days to be lost in Auckland for the preliminaries for the 31st America's Cup - a situation Emirates Team New Zealand are keen not keen to repeated 18years later.

The race times of the 2021 America's Cup and the Prada Cup have been set to start at 4.00 pm - allowing the breeze for the day to settle in. That late time gives some guarantee to the television broadcasters that the racing would take place on time, with a minimum of disruption due to winds either not being present, or excessive.

However, the imposition of a maximum wind limit of 20 or 22kts would have a significant impact on organisers being able to deliver the scheduled racing to broadcasters.

The maximum wind limit of 20kts would be one of the lowest, if not the lowest in regular sailing, let alone for the most prestigious competition in sailing. The normal limit for racing, in Auckland, if indeed there is a limit, is 25kts.

The process proposed by Emirates Team New Zealand is that a similar pre-start process used in Bermuda for the 2017 America's Cup and preliminaries. That procedure had a maximum windstrength of 24kts average in a 30 second period which could not be exceeded between the eight and three-minute interval before the start. Once the countdown passed the three minutes remaining before the start signal without triggering the excessive wind strength alarm, the race could not be stopped even if the wind later exceeded the 24knot limit.

Initially, in Bermuda, the wind limit was set at 25kts. However, Principal Race Officer Iain Murray long-argued for a lower 24kt limit, and it was changed just before the start of the regatta.

Emirates Team New Zealand has been sailing extensively in winds above 25kts starting a few days after their AC75 Te Aihe was launched.

Windspeeds are now easily tracked in Auckland with the installation of a myriad of weather stations in the area to be used for the America's Cup courses, and seeing the Defender team sailing in winds gusting above 28kts is not uncommon.

"Earlier in the week we reached agreement on all the Match Conditions except for wind limits," Emirates Team New Zealand rules adviser, Russell Green told Sail-World. "We proposed the same upper limit as Bermuda - 24kts. The Challenger wanted a lower limit and wanted to be able to sail the Challenger Series in winds under 20kts, which we think is unrealistic for Auckland conditions."

"The Protocol requires the wind limit to be the same for the Challenger Selection Series and the Match.

"We have been training in winds above 20kts, and our sailors are telling us that the AC75 is considerably easier to handle in the upper wind range than the cats (AC50's) were."

"We've also now proved how easy it is to right an AC75 ", Green quipped.

Some are surprised that Emirates Team New Zealand has opted for a limit as low as 24kts, when 30kts would have been more realistic, given that there are sheltered course areas available to the race management for the America's Cup.

The lower end of the wind range is expected to be set at 6-7kts - whatever the minimum is for foiling in the AC75. Certainly, the foiling monohull is very slow sailing in displacement mode. To get around this same issue in the 2017 Americas Cup with the AC50's, a time limit of 10 minutes applied for Leg 2 (the first downwind leg of the race).

Wind limits are a vexed issue in Auckland - going back into the 2002/03 America's Cup when the Challengers attempted to set wind limits which would mimic the expected winds in the 31st America's Cup Match.

Many days racing were lost due to the unrealistic 19kt upper wind limits being exceeded. That situation was underlined by the ignominy of America's Cup yachts being towed home after racing was cancelled due to "strong" winds, while inshore fleets of Optimists and P class would be racing quite happily.

The lack of racing even drew comment from the then President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, who was visiting at the time..

While a 19kt wind limit was in place for the then Louis Vuitton Cup, there were no wind limits for the 2003 America's Cup tself. The combination of the 19kt wind limit, coupled with no-wind days saw the First Round of the Round-Robin Qualification series completed after Round 2 had started. The lower limit was set at 7kts for a period of five minutes before the start. The latest a race was permitted to start was 4.00pm - for the 2021 America's Cup, racing will not start before 4.00pm. Over the 2002/03 Lupus Vuitton Cup and America's Cup, 26 of the 73 days (35.6%) were lost due to the weather not being with the prescribed wind limits.

It was similar but different situation in Valencia for the 2007 Louis Vuitton Cup, when the breeze failed to meet the 7kt wind limit for five of the six scheduled race days.

In 2013 America's Cup, the Protocol for the event initially prescribed a wind limit of 33kts, but after the fatality due to structural failure on the AC72, Artemis Racing, Oracle Team USA attempted to have the wind limit reduced to 20kts. After Challenger Emirates Team NZ called for 25kts as a wind limit - the matter went to the International Jury who split the difference and opted for a 23 kt limit.

It would appear that the 20kt limit now sought is a negotiating ploy similar to that successfully used in the 2013 America's Cup. While there were race days lost in Bermuda, they were minimal compared to the previous regattas - often with the teams being told the day day before that racing would not be possible due to too much wind. The system used in Bermuda was a big advance on San Francisco.

Compulsory resolution process

The Protocol provides for any dispute over Match Conditions to be referred to the Arbitration Panel "who shall commence mediation of all such differences at the request of RNZYS and/or COR". If the Mediation is successful, then no later than three months after the Conditions Date (December 20, 2019), decide the unresolved issues..."

The claim by the Challengers, as in 2003, is that they should not sailing in winds during the Prada Cup that are higher than would be expected in the Match.

While there may have been some logic to that argument in 2003, with the then Louis Vuitton Cup starting in October 2002 and a Match in March 2003, the same claim cannot be sustained that a Challenger series sailed in January 2021 is sure to have stronger winds than early March 2021.

Of course, time is now of the essence for Challengers who are looking to lock off their design options for their second AC75, and likely race boat. Given this imperative, it is surprising that they are prepared to wait until the end of March 2020 for this vital design parameter to be resolved.

No indication has been made from the Arbitration Panel as to how the Mediation will operate. However, the Panel is expected to appoint one of their three members to conduct the Mediation - most likely to be the Chairman of the Panel, Adelaide based David Tillett.

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