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New Zealand Team Sails Unopposed In First Race Of America’s Cup

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America's Cup Racing

Emirates Team New Zealand, skippered by Dean Barker, races near Alcatraz during the round robin stage of the Louis Vuitton Cup on July 7. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The first point in the America’s Cup was scored Sunday in a race with only one competitor due to a dispute over a proposed rule change.

Emirates Team New Zealand completed a 16-mile course this afternoon in 46 minutes and 27 seconds in wind speeds of 14 to 16 knots, America’s Cup officials said.

The team’s 72-foot long Aotearoa recorded a top speed of 42.8 knots, or 49 mph and averaged 20.7 knots over the course, officials said.

The team sailed unopposed in the first race of the Louis Vuitton Cup, a series of race between the three challengers to Oracle Team USA for the America’s Cup.

Italy’s Luna Rossa Challenge team was scheduled to compete against Emirates Team New Zealand but officials announced on their website Saturday that the team is sitting out the opening race as it waits for the cup’s International Jury to hear a complaint about modified rules regarding rudders on the 72-foot vessels.

Team skipper Max Sirena had said at a Friday news conference in San Francisco that his crew would probably not race Sunday but said they would wait to make to make a final decision until Saturday.

The team said in a previous statement that the proposed changes to the rudders “have nothing to do with safety, since their only reason and effect (is) to increase the speed and performance of the boat.”

“We are waiting for the international jury to decide the protest and then we’ll make a plan,” Sirena said in a statement after the race Sunday. “We’re here to race, we’ve spent lots of energy and money to do that. It’s our dream and goal to be out there racing.”

The proposal is among 37 recommendations made by race organizers following the May 9 death of Sweden-based team Artemis Racing crewmember Andrew “Bart” Simpson.

Simpson, a 36-year-old Olympic sailor from Great Britain, died after the Artemis boat capsized during a practice run in the Bay. He became trapped underneath the overturned vessel and could not be revived after being brought back to shore.

Artemis Racing officials have said the team will not be able to join the Louis Vuitton Cup races until later this month at the earliest while they repair and test their damaged boat.

The International Jury, a five-person panel that resolves disputes over rules for the sailing races, is set to meet and discuss the Luna Rossa Challenge complaint on Monday.

Dean Barker, team skipper for Emirates New Zealand, said the team trusted that the jury would make the correct decision, and did not feel that whether it raced or not would affect that decision.

Race officials had said Emirates Team New Zealand would need to complete the course to collect a point, even without competitors.

“We’re a commercially funded team,” said Dean Barker, team skipper. “It’s important for us as a team, to our sponsors and followers in New Zealand to get out there and race.”

America’s Cup CEO Stephen Barclay denounced the Italian team’s decision to sit out the race on Saturday.

“This isn’t unexpected, but it’s still disappointing,” Barclay said in a statement.

“The people really hurt by this are the fans, who have waited for more than two years to see the first race in these spectacular AC72 catamarans,” he said.

Race officials had also scheduled time trials involving the 72-foot boats on Friday morning on the Bay, but they were canceled because of high winds.

Opening ceremonies for the races took place Thursday. The winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup will face Oracle Team USA in the America’s Cup Finals in September.

The next race is scheduled for Tuesday.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed)

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