Barker snuffs out Oracle's wind limit plea
DUNCAN JOHNSTONE SAN FRANCISCO
Team New Zealand threw out an Oracle proposal to increase the wind limits for the America's Cup match on principle - and also because the changes would benefit the defenders.
As the fans became frustrated by another weather delay hitting the schedule for the third day in a row, Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill played the sympathy card.
He said his team wanted to race in higher winds but Team New Zealand were preventing that.
It turned into a storm befitting the subject with Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker correctly pointing out that Oracle were trying to change the rules at the business end of a game that started two weeks ago.
And Barker emphasised the irony in Spithill's pleas now, when it was Oracle who wanted even lower wind limits when they were reduced by 10 knots to 23 knots in the wake of the Artemis Racing capsize that killed crew member Andrew Simpson in May.
Barker was in no doubt about what lay behind Oracle's sudden change of mind.
"You don't normally ask to change things if you think it's a disadvantage," Barker said.
"So I'm sure they probably feel strongly that as the breeze increases they might be going better and better."
Barker said they might have looked at the equation before the final started but they weren't prepared to budge now when they had configured their boat to suit the rules in place.
And that certainly wasn't going to happen with Team New Zealand sitting on match point, needing just one win to win the cup.
Oracle are clearly on the improve, winning by 31 seconds at the upper wind limit yesterday, leaving them needing seven more wins in their desperate fightback.
"We actually sent a letter to the Kiwis, saying we'd accept raising the wind limits or at least the fact that if you start a race you have got to finish it, you can't blow it off, because we think that would be better for the sport and people watching," Spithill said.
"But it takes them to agree with it. At the moment we are stuck with the wind limits and this is likely to happen again."
Any changes would also require regatta director Iain Murray to convince the coast guard they were suitable, something Murray admitted would be difficult.
Barker was happy to put Spithill in his place.
"It's quite an interesting point that James raises," Barker said.
"When the safety recommendations were being discussed, we were very much in favour of 25 knots. At that stage Oracle wanted it to be 20."
Those drawn out negotiations then agreed on the middle ground of 23 knots - still 10 knots lower than the limit set down in the original agreement made over two years earlier and on which Team New Zealand based their original designs.
"It seems a little bit strange that halfway through a series you think you need to change a wind limit that has been agreed when previously they wanted a much lower one," Barker said.
Barker said they had discussed Oracle's suggestion but felt the timing was wrong.
Reconfiguring Aotearoa at this late stage would also be time-consuming and not without risks.
But clearly Team New Zealand weren't prepared to start playing a new game that Oracle were getting better at.
"Prior to the start of racing, absolutely we would have agreed but we just don't think it's right to change it now.
"It doesn't seem right to change any rules halfway through a series. When you start a series, that's how it should be. We have set our boat up knowing what the wind limits are going to be and we don't believe we should have to change it."
Spithill was gung-ho yesterday, pumped by his victory. He wouldn't hear anything of suggestions these changes might be used to Oracle's advantage. Conveniently, his reasoning was camouflaged in the bigger needs of the event.
"We want to race, that's why we are here," he said.
"These are two of the world's best teams in sailing out there and you have a beautiful breeze in the afternoon and we have to come ashore.
"You asked yourself: what are we doing out here? But like I said, it takes two teams to agree and if these guys don't want to do it, then we will just keep thumping into this problem every day."
- Fairfax Media