Unsettled wind postpones Race 14 of America's Cup

AP News
Posted: Sep 21, 2013 8:22 PM
Unsettled wind postpones Race 14 of America's Cup

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The attempt to modernize the stodgy old America's Cup is slowing the regatta's momentum and keeping a boatload of Kiwis holding on match point.

Sailing this America's Cup in space-age, 72-foot catamarans that can hit 50 mph has been spectacular.

However, trying to fit racing into a nice, neat two-hour TV window doesn't quite work in a sport that relies on wind and tides that keep their own schedule and don't always cooperate.

Race 14 was postponed Saturday because the wind hadn't settled in from the usual direction by the 2:40 p.m. cutoff time. That forced Emirates Team New Zealand and defending champion Oracle Team USA back to shore to await expected better conditions on Sunday.

Regatta director Iain Murray said organizers hadn't seen wind from that direction all summer and didn't want to send the high-performance, 72-foot catamarans into skewed conditions with so much at stake.

"It wasn't the right day today," Murray said.

"There's an awful lot at stake here for these teams and I understand that they don't want to have anything less than a quality race," Murray added. "The America's Cup deserves quality races. The boats are quality. The crews are certainly quality. This is representing hundreds of millions of dollars and years of people's lives here on the line. The implication for getting the right result is super important."

A front that drenched San Francisco with late-morning rain brought wind from the south. It never swung back to the west-southwest breeze the course is set up for, between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Embarcadero.

Had a race started in those conditions, it would have been a sprint across the wind devoid of match-racing tactics. Murray said the teams were given the choice of using an alternative a north-south course, but they declined because they'd never practiced on that course.

The Kiwis have been sitting on match point since Wednesday, leading 8-3 and needing one more win to wrest the oldest trophy in international sports away from software tycoon Larry Ellison.

There's no doubt that many of the 4.5 million people in New Zealand — not to mention the thousands of Kiwis who jam the waterfront here — want to see their boys wrap it up as soon as possible. There's also the matter of fans having to re-book international flights, and some are losing their hotel rooms because of Oracle Open World, at which Ellison is scheduled to give the welcome keynote speech Sunday evening.

The stakes are high for Oracle Team USA, as well, since one more loss will see the America's Cup sail away from American shores for the third time since 1983. Docked two points in a cheating scandal, the well-funded powerhouse still needs to win six races to keep the Auld Mug. Oracle has won four of the last six races as it's improved its sailing technique and made changes to its black cat.

On Friday, Race 13 was abandoned due to a 40-minute time limit with the Kiwis well ahead on the fourth leg of the five-leg course in light wind. Oracle won the re-sail of Race 13 to stay alive for the second straight day.

It was the seventh time the race committee had to abandon or postpone a race since Sept. 14. Both races Tuesday were blown out.

The regatta is stretching into its third weekend. Sunday will tie the 2003 America's Cup in Auckland as the longest ever, at 16 days. That best-of-9 series was plagued by a nine-day stretch with no racing due to either wind that was too strong or was too light. When Race 4 finally was sailed, Team New Zealand's mast cracked in two and tumbled into the Hauraki Gulf. The Kiwis were swept in five races by Alinghi of Switzerland.

This is a best-of-17 series, although Oracle needs to win 11 races due to the cheating scandal.

The regatta has been plagued by the convergence of rules set more than a year ago and changes made following the death of British double Olympic medalist Andrew "Bart" Simpson when Artemis Racing's catamaran capsized on May 9.

This is the first time in its 162-year history that the America's Cup has been contested inshore. Besides taking advantage of racing on spectacular San Francisco Bay, organizers have tried to make the regatta more TV-friendly with shorter races on a five-leg course.

Oracle Team USA and the challengers decided on most details in 2012, including having two races a day and a time limit for the races in order to fit into a two-hour TV window. Murray said there are other considerations, such as the Coast Guard wanting the race boats out of the area by 4 p.m.

"The rules are the rules," said Murray, an Australian who lost the America's Cup in 1987 to Dennis Conner. "We didn't make them. They were made by the teams, and the teams have to abide by them."

Perhaps the most painful moment of the regatta for the Kiwis, other than their near-capsize on Sept. 14, came Friday when the 40-minute clock ran out in Race 13 with Team New Zealand far ahead of the American boat in light, shifty breeze. When Race 13 was re-sailed in a better breeze, Oracle won to stay alive for the second straight day.

The original wind limit was 33 knots. After Simpson was trapped under the twisted wreckage of Artemis Racing's catamaran on May 9, the limit was reduced to 23 knots as one of 37 safety recommendations Murray made.

The wind limit is offset by the tide. When an ebb tide is flowing out of San Francisco Bay, it reduces the wind limit.

Some have wondered why races don't start earlier in the day. But the decision to set the start times at 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. for TV was among those made more than a year ago. At the time, the wind limit was still 33 knots and no one thought that would be a factor.

Earlier in the week, Oracle wanted to increase the wind limit but the Kiwis declined, saying they would have done so before the regatta but not well into it.


Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson