Not the Happiest Place on Earth

Published on June 2nd, 2013

By Paul Lewis, New Zealand Herald
America’s Cup challenger Emirates Team New Zealand have proposed a course through the tangle of uncertainty and self-interest that has temporarily becalmed the 34th America’s Cup. But the elephant in the room, as team boss Grant Dalton puts it, is whether Artemis will make it to the starting line late or at all.

There are hints the Swedish team may not even be ready to sail for the whole of July. They don’t have a new wingsail yet. Their boat may require structural modifications, particularly if it has the same kind of hull design reports suggest may have been at fault in the Simpson tragedy.

“Then they have to learn to sail it, so they can push it comfortably without getting into trouble. If that was us, we couldn’t do it in the time left,” said Dalton. “We are not in favour of delaying [the event]. We and others have too many obligations and arrangements in place.”

If Artemis are missing, the somewhat farcical prospect of Emirates Team NZ racing day after day against Italy’s Luna Rossa applies – they being the only two challengers left.

If Artemis turn up late, there is a possibility that the regatta could be altered so that the winner of Team NZ vs Luna Rossa goes direct to the Louis Vuitton semifinal, with Artemis and the loser racing off over another long period for the other spot – instead of the three-team round-robin regatta.

In either case, a uniquely American icon comes to mind; he has big, black ears, a squeaky voice, wears red shorts and yellow shoes and Donald Duck is one of his best friends.

“It wasn’t exactly Disneyland even with Artemis there,” said Dalton. “We have been saying for two-and-a-half years that there was a risk of the event not attracting enough challengers but not everyone was listening.”

Artemis will be under enormous pressure from Oracle to compete, even as the holders’ cherished dream of a state-of-the-art, high-tech, fan-friendly, TV-friendly competition designed to bring sailing to a whole new audience and to make it the F1 or the Nascar of the seas is already in tatters.

You can feel some sympathy for Oracle and Sir Russell Coutts’ vision for the Cup. The concept of the AC72 catamarans is absorbing but the cost of competing kept challengers away and now the cost of the Artemis accident is one life and the potential sapping of interest.

The lower wind limits will likely mean more postponed races; fewer days of racing for those fans not staying for the nearly-three-months of the regatta. Ironically, part of the intent of the giant catamarans was that they would race in almost all weathers at breathtaking speeds.

Now they will likely be subject to the same wind restrictions that frustrated broadcasters at Valencia in 2007; TV is not renowned for its patience with a sport with off-again, on-again action.

Even more ironically, both ETNZ and Oracle have been happily sailing round San Francisco Bay in winds higher than those now suggested as safe for the event. – Full story

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