Tensions in the troubled America’s Cup could be easing after an international jury sided with challengers from New Zealand and Italy in their arguments that regatta director Iain Murray overstepped his authority in making rules changes following the fatal capsize of a third challenger’s catamaran two months ago.
One promising sign was that Italy’s Luna Rossa ended its boycott and headed onto San Francisco Bay on Thursday to sail around the course alone and collect its first point of the Louis Vuitton Cup for challengers.
Luna Rossa’s scheduled opponent, Sweden’s Artemis Racing, remains a no-show while it works to get its second boat up to speed following the capsize on May 9 that killed Andrew “Bart” Simpson and destroyed its first boat.
Simpson’s death led Murray to make 37 safety recommendations. Among them was a highly technical change to the winglets on the rudders of the fast, space-age boats. The Kiwis and Italians protested, saying the changes were more about performance than safety.
The syndicates said their boats were designed and built under the old rules and they didn’t have time to build new rudders and, perhaps more importantly, test them. They also said they felt the change gave an advantage to defending champion Oracle Team USA, which doesn’t have to race until the start of the 34th America’s Cup on Sept. 7.
The jury ruled that a regatta notice issued by Murray had the effect of changing the class rule and was not in accordance with the protocol. Murray was ordered to withdraw that notice.
Last week, Murray said that if the jury sided with the challengers, he would have no choice but to go back to the U.S. Coast Guard to discuss the permit it issued for racing on San Francisco Bay.
In a statement, Emirates Team New Zealand said it was pleased the jury “has maintained the sanctity of the AC72 Class Rule in ruling that it can be changed only by unanimous consent of the competitors and the Regatta Director.”
The Kiwis added that they believe the jury’s decision “does not affect the substance of the safety plan submitted with the application to the U.S. Coast Guard for a Marine Event Permit or the excellent work the Regatta Director undertook with the Review Committee.”
The Kiwis also said they’d like to help Artemis Racing, which has said it doesn’t have the proper rudders to comply with the rules.
Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena said last week that the Italians would not race until the jury ruled, but that they would return regardless of the panel’s decision.
They kept their word, refusing to show up for the regatta’s opening race on Sunday against the Kiwis.
Now, the regatta could see its first real race on Saturday, when Luna Rossa is scheduled to face Emirates Team New Zealand.
The Kiwis have twice sailed around the course alone, including the race the Italians boycotted and on Tuesday when Artemis Racing was the scheduled opponent. They have shown remarkable speed, reaching nearly 50 mph on Thursday.
Emirates Team New Zealand was practicing on San Francisco Bay on Thursday, appearing to shadow the Italians as they finished their race.