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America's Cup: Italians lose crucial AC75 rules appeal on eve of Semi-Finals

by Richard Gladwell/ 28 Jan 2021 00:00 PST 28 January 2021
Luna Rossa - Waitemata Harbour - January 23, 2021 - Prada Cup - 36th America's Cup © Richard Gladwell /

Italy's Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli have lost an appeal to the Arbitration Panel for the 36th America's Cup regattas, claiming that the Rules Committee had exceeded its jurisdiction, in regard to the use of running backstays.

In the America's Cup World Series, in mid-December, the Italian team sailed without its running backstays which run from the top of the mast close to each corner of the transom. The stays are shown on the rig plan, and are part of a supplied rig package for all AC75's.

Not using the running backstays, raised a few eyebrows, however clearly the Italian team had found a way to tension their rig adequately, without using the the tension on the rig from the deployment of one of the two 27.5 metre long stays.

In dispensing with the two backstays the team was able to save the aero-drag the stays created, adding to the speed of the Italian Challenger.

They would also avoid the capsize-aggravating situation, as occurred with American Magic at the end of Round Robin 2, when the US team's mainsail hit a still tensioned backstay, preventing the sail from being eased and contributing to the capsize-triggering forces.

While it had been ruled that the backstays had to be fitted, in a nifty approach the Italians asked for an interpretation from the Rules Committee which would permit the two running backstays to be loose and carried between the two skins of mainsail.

That work-around would appear to both comply with the requirements of the AC75 class rule, but would also reduce almost all of the aero-drag from the two backstays.

However the Rules Committee looked at Class Rule 20.5 which states "the mast shall be positioned and tensioned on the hull as specified in the rig plan".

The Rules Committee determined that carrying the stays loose, and inside the mainsail skins, did not meet the requirement for the mast to be tensioned as specified in the rig plan.

Luna Rossa's complaint to the Arbitration Panel was the the Rules Committee, who is the body responsible for the interpretation of Class Rules was that they had exceed their jurisdiction or had made an error. In a 18 page document covering the various team inputs and also that of the Rules Committee, the Arbitration Panel didn't support the Italian position.

The upshot of the decision is that Luna Rossa has to carry their two running backstays, in a tensioned position attached to the stern of the boat, as do all the other teams.

The Italian idea is not novel.

It was used in the 2000 Defence of the Cup in Auckland where a Team New Zealand crew member, usually Tony Rae, would unclip the topmast backstay and take that stay forward and "bury" it in the aft face of the mast - again reducing aero-drag. The 80ft IACC class weighing 25tonnes travelled at a fraction of the speed of the AC75's when sailing to windward, and then the drag of a relatively thin, single stay was thought to be significant.

Ironically the Challenger in that Match was Luna Rossa.

Time-out canned?

The Italian team, which is also the Challenger of Record is believed to have refused to extend the option for a competitor to request a 15 minute delay to the start if there is a breakdown on board their AC75. The experimental provision was introduced after a review involving the competitors, regatta director and other parties which resulted in several changes to the conduct of the regatta. The changes included consolidation of the racing areas into a combination of Course Area B,C and D meaning that in most weather conditions the racing would be held on the stadium course between North Head and Bastion Point.

The 15 minute delayed start request was introduced largely in response to issues with the Race Management System, which feeds data into the competitors' onboard systems, relating to mark position, start line position, boundary line position and other data.

Luna Rossa had been the most critical of the teams of RMS, including a claim by helmsman Jimmy Spithill that they had to sail blind on the final day of Round Robin 2 (when American Magic capsized), due to a failure of the RMS data to display on their on board systems. "The only thing that we had that was working was a $50 stopwatch timer," he told the media conference ahead of the start of Round Robins 3 & 4 the following weekend.

Part of the 15 minute extension was that the competitor could request a further 15 minute extension to the time-out if it was found that the RMS fault lay with the data supplier, and was not the fault of the competitor's systems interfacing with the supplied data stream.

However it was obvious that had the British team not been able to use the time-out to repair, or lock-off and errant luff control hydraulic ram, that they would have been forced to start what proved to be a crucial race, against Luna Rossa, in which they snatched the narrowest of wins after the lead changed nine times.

"We decided, in agreement, to use it for this weekend", explained Luna Rossa co-helmsman Francesco Bruni at the post RR3 race media conference.

"This time it was good for Ben, they used it in the right moment, and were able to start on time, after it. It could have been good for us if we had a problem, but our boat was fine."

Ainslie wasn't given the opportunity to answer the second part of the question. However it was obvious on the water that the British team would have been stuffed without the time-out and the opportunity effect a temporary repair, and they would surely have been beaten by Luna Rossa.

However given that Luna Rossa seems to have been the team who has suffered most on the shortcomings of the Race Management System, supporting a continuation of the 15-30 minute timeout may have been a more considered move.

Two races per day are scheduled in the best of seven series, and gear or RMS issues could be crucial in the brutal, knockout series, after which one team will exit the 2021 America's Cup Regattas.

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