Team New Zealand's fears of the America's Cup wind range being lowered took another worrying twist with an aggressive Italian syndicate boss Patrizio Bertelli demanding changes and also threatening not to race if alterations aren't made.
The committee investigating the training accident that killed Artemis Racing sailor Andrew Simpson met all four syndicates in San Francisco yesterday.
Bertelli later went on the offensive. He wants the current wind limits - a top of 25 knots for the challenge round, 28 knots for the challenge final and 33 knots for the America's Cup - reduced to 20 knots and 25 knots. "The wind limits need to be reasonable," Bertelli said.
His Luna Rossa skipper, Max Sirena, backed that up, declaring that he would not compete in anything much more than 25 knots. Luna Rossa have been Team New Zealand's design and training partners in the build-up to the July 4 regatta.
"There is a massive difference when you sail at 20 knots versus 25 knots. You are almost in surviving mode," Sirena said.
But Team New Zealand have designed, built and successfully tested their boats up to and beyond the approved wind ranges. They are so far ahead of the other syndicates with their sailing programme, they will see changes at this late stage as a disadvantage to them.
The difficulty in the current sensitive circumstances is that when the word "safety" is raised, the Kiwis will appear reckless if they don't agree to changes.
Already the review committee chairman Iain Murray has warned that the wind range will come under scrutiny: "We'll look at when we sail, the times [of the day] we sail and the winds."
Team NZ boss Grant Dalton yesterday feared that his rivals were trying to take advantage of a tragic situation.
"This is not a sport where people should die," Dalton said.
"Since day one we have led the way with rescue divers on the water and with medics, and with a chase boat that can stay in really tight and close. The thing is that in over 50 days of sailing we have never come close to having an issue with this boat. This boat was designed because we knew we were coming to this venue.
"The concern would be for us that now nobody uses that tragedy - and it is a tragedy - to try and potentially cover up or make gains for things they may have not got right."
Bertelli wants quick answers and wants to compete. But he also warned his team might take their safety into their own hands.
"The wind limits need to be within reason . . for us (this) is fundamental," Bertelli said, adding they were prepared to not race on days when the limit was too high or "is lowered to a ridiculous number".
They risk a US$100,000 fine per race for withdrawals.
"We are not here to produce a show. We are here to race and win the America's Cup. In order for the boat to be safe, sailors need to feel safe," Bertelli said. In the immediate aftermath of Simpson's death Bertelli was even stronger in his criticism of the way the cup was evolving on these new hi-tech catamarans.
"In Auckland we tested the new boat at 20 knots with no problems. But 33 knots is too much. These are boats that downwind, with 20 knots of wind they sail on the water at 35-38 knots. Do you have any idea what kind of speed this is? It's like jumping with a motorcycle at 250 km/h. In short, everything is multiplied to the extreme. And we will not be at this slaughtering game."
Yesterday Bertelli said the safety recommendations he had made weren't just about the wind. He also wants water ambulances and paramedics on the water, as well as a helicopter flying overhead. He believed there could be improvements in the helmets, body armour and emergency breathing apparatus. The review committee yesterday asked the four syndicates not to train on San Francisco Bay until Friday. But that is not binding and, ironically, Bertelli hinted that Luna Rossa was anxious to start testing as time ticks away on the July 4 start to the Louis Vuitton Cup racing.
The recommendation won't affect Team New Zealand. They hadn't planned to start until Friday anyway as they complete putting their boat together. There will be huge interest when the Kiwis do hit the water to see if they can translate their impressive Auckland form into their new surroundings.
- Sunday Star Times
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