America’s Cup: So Much for Creating a Perfect World

Published on September 22nd, 2013

After countless delays during the challenger series for the 32nd America’s Cup in Valencia, Spain, it was imperative for the 34th edition to avoid them. With an emphasis to improve the broadcast, nothing discourages network executives like unreliable event schedules.

It was this directive, when the Protocol for the 34th America’s Cup was announced in September 2010, which led the event toward the AC72 and San Francisco. The boat could effectively sail in a wide wind range, and the venue offered reliably strong winds that the boat could sail in. Perfect, right?

But the conflict of holding a safe competition, designed for the spectators, with rules decided by the competitors, has resulted in frequent delays. Out of 12 scheduled race days, 7 days have had races abandoned or postponed. Here have been the problems…

Too much wind: The original plan to sail up to 33 knots was shelved following the May 2013 death of Artemis crew Andrew Simpson. Regatta Director Iain Murray reduced the maximum to 23 knots for safety, a compromise between Oracle Team USA (20 knots) and Emirates Team New Zealand (25 knots). Races on four days were lost to the wind limit. It was noted on Sept 19 that the defender offered to raise the wind limit, but Kiwi team chose not to change the rule. Even if both teams agreed to the change, it was not clear if Race Management and/or the US Coast Guard would have approved it due to safety concerns.

Too little wind: The irony of being unable to finish race 13 on Day 10 (Sept 20) due to the 40 minute time limit was not lost on Regatta Director Iain Murray. Despite the race being sailed within the 5-23 knot wind requirement, Murray said the teams agreed on the time limit rule in June 2012 based on the speed projections at the time. Murray theorizes the foil development since then has slowed the boats in lighter winds.

Wind direction:
All the planning for the event was based on the reliability of the seabreeze. For the first 13 races, it has not varied more than 20 degrees, allowing for the course to be placed parallel to the shoreline for spectating. When an unseasonable front passed through on Day 11 (Sept 21), pulling the wind to a southerly direction off the City for Race 14, it was deemed unacceptable by both teams.

Postponement Card: The idea was that if a team incurred a problem in the first race of a day, they would be able to postpone the second race until the next schedule race day. Each team would have only one “card” to use, and they could use it for any reason. Oracle Team USA used their card on Day 3 (Sept 10) to address boat performance issues.

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