Crew, boat safety issues become growing worry

DUNCAN JOHNSTONE IN SAN FRANCISCO
Last updated 06:59 21/09/2013

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America's Cup

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America's Cup director Iain Murray is becoming increasingly concerned about crew safety and boat maintenance as the regatta compresses with weather delays.

Team New Zealand and Oracle were facing racing every day to complete the schedule if the defenders could achieve the unthinkable and win the last seven races to hold on to the Cup.

Team New Zealand could put everyone out of their frustration and misery of the continual delays by winning the one race required for them to claim the Auld Mug.

But in his position, Murray has had to consider all the consequences. That means taking a long-term view.

That included opening discussions with the coast guard about extending the racing permit if the competition can't be completed by the scheduled finish on Tuesday.

But that comes with risks that Murray wants addressed.

He believes the power and speed of these boats makes racing them continually untenable.

He wanted to get the teams' views on that, with the regatta today again being hit by the prospect of the second race, if required, being postponed by strong winds.

"I would like to have a discussion with the crews about what they are feeling," Murray said this morning.

"Are the crews up to racing these boats? Are there maintenance issues starting to appear? Are they on top of all that?

"The last thing we want to do is end this with an accident."

Murray said the way the teams were racing the giant catamarans brought pressures on boats and crews that needed to be looked at.

"We do have to keep in mind these are exceptionally high performance boats. They have been put through probably more than anything we anticipated with the way they are throwing them around in the tacks, the jibes, the loads foiling around the bottom marks ... extraordinary things are happening with these boats."

Murray said he wasn't "being blindfolded" by the competition that has enthralled viewers.

"One of my endeavours is to get this event completed as well as we can but to keep the safety of the crews foremost," Murray said.

"It's all very easy to lose sight of the fact that these guys are doing unbelievable things in bringing us some incredible races.

"But as you saw with New Zealand we have had a nosedive and a near-capsize ... an accident is only fractions of a degree or seconds away ... or a minor something not happening.

"We don't want to lose sight of the fact that we are being over-run by putting boats out there that aren't getting the maintenance.

"At some stage ... it's unrealistic to think you can sail these boats every day in strong winds and take them home and not need a day to catch up."

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Shifting the races forward an hour into a more favourable window of wind is a possibility.

But again, it needs the agreement of the two teams and the regatta organisers.

There are also commercial considerations with that move, most importantly being TV schedules that have been in place for a long time.

- Fairfax Media

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