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Italian team to boycott America's Cup opening

Luna Rossa Challenge skipper Max Sirena fields questions during a press conference on July 5, 2013, in San Francisco
Luna Rossa Challenge skipper Max Sirena fields questions during a press conference on July 5, 2013, in San Francisco. Sirena said the Italian team would boycott the America's Cup race until a jury rules on its protest against a last-minute change to a rud

The skipper of Luna Rossa on Friday said the Italian team would boycott the America's Cup race until a jury rules on its protest against a last-minute change to a rudder design rule.

Max Sirena said Luna Rossa will not take to the San Francisco Bay on Sunday for the first scheduled race, against Emirates Team New Zealand, if the international jury is still pondering objections filed by both teams.

"The main reason we are not racing on Sunday is a principle concept; not to accept what is being done," Sirena said at a press conference with other skippers and regatta director Iain Murray.

"We want to wait to hear the decision of the jury, and then we will make our plan on top of that."

But Sirena went on to say that Luna Rossa was at the 34th America's Cup to race and would likely take part in the event even if the jury doesn't back his team's protest in a decision expected to be handed down on Monday.

"If you don't turn up, you don't win races, and you don't get points, and you don't win the America's Cup," Murray said when asked about the boycott.

Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa, scheduled to duel in the first race of the Louis Vuitton Cup, contend that Murray exceeded his authority in some of the 37 safety rule proposals in the wake of British sailor Andrew Simpson's death in May.

"Whether Luna Rossa decides to race or not, we will be out there," New Zealand team skipper Dean Barker promised.

If Luna Rossa doesn't show up Sunday, the New Zealand team will need just to sail the course to win a point in the battle for the right to take on defenders Oracle Team USA in the America's Cup finals in September.

Simpson died in a training accident in which the AC72 catamaran of Swedish syndicate Artemis Racing capsized, and Murray has held firm that rule changes aimed at preventing another such tragedy were within his authority.

Artemis will miss early rounds of racing as it recovers from the accident.

A huge support team is working "night and day" at the Artemis base in a former US Naval Air Station on the island city of Alameda across the bay from San Francisco, according to skipper Iain Percy.

"Unfortunately, it is going to be a couple of weeks yet," Percy said of when his team would be able to take part in Vuitton Cup racing.

"When the dust settled after the accident, we came together as a team and said we wanted to be part of the event," he continued. "We are keen to be out there on this amazing bay."

The focus of the stand-off between Murray and protesting teams is a design rule change to catamaran elevators, a part of the rudder that affects how high boats can rise out of the water and, by extension, how fast they can go.

Rule changes focused on boat design fall under the category of 'class' changes that can't be implemented without unanimous agreement from competitors, Luna Rossa argued.

Rivals have complained that Oracle was handed an advantage by the change because it has trained with the new design.

The controversy has been sarcastically dubbed "ruddergate" by some who think it overblown.

With the America's Cup trophy in the foreground, skippers field questions during a press conference on July 5, 2013
With the America's Cup trophy in the foreground, skippers field questions during a press conference on July 5, 2013, in San Francisco.

To complicate matters further, the catamaran that Artemis is hurrying to build to join the racing is being made with a rudder designed to meet the changed rule and will be out of compliance if Luna Rossa gets its way.

"This is not politics, we just feel that it is unfair," Sirena said of the protest muddying waters for an event that has navigated turbulance for months.

"What has happened so far has put us against one another," he continued, flanked by Murray on one side and rival team skippers on the other. "I have to do what is best for my team."

Sirena underscored his point by standing and shaking Murray's hand, saying that nothing about the rule-change challenge was personal.

"The America's Cup has a long history," said Team Oracle skipper James Spithill. "You can play as many games as you want on shore, but at some point you have to get out on the water and race."

Sailing legend and Oracle team member Russell Coutts depicted the Luna Rossa threat to boycott the opening challenge race as a ploy intended to put pressure on the jury.

"It has been interesting to see this whole situation about rudder elevators transpire," Spithill said. "It is quite a simple adjustment."

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