SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – The sailing body reviewing new safety recommendations proposed by the America’s Cup regatta director to prevent another deadly accident on the San Francisco Bay has decided in favor of two teams contesting changes to the rules, creating uncertainty about the fate of the event’s permit with the U.S. Coast Guard.
A jury of the International Federation of Sailing ruled Thursday in favor of teams from Italy and New Zealand that disagreed with new requirements to modify so-called foil runner yachts.
A five-member jury found that regatta director Iain Murray could not implement new specifications for the vessels participating in the race unless all four teams agreed to the changes.
Murray sought the changes after a member of the Swedish Team Artemis was killed when its boat capsized during a practice run in May that killed Olympic medalist Andrew “Bart” Simpson.
Italy’s Luna Rossa and Team Emirates New Zealand declined to participate in preliminary races over the weekend while they awaited the jury decision.
One promising sign Thursday was that Italy’s Luna Rossa ended its boycott and sailed its 72-foot catamaran alone around the course on San Francisco Bay to collect its first point of the Louis Vuitton Cup for challengers.
Luna Rossa’s scheduled opponent, Sweden’s Artemis Racing, remains a no-show while it works to get its second boat up to speed following the capsize on May 9 that killed Andrew “Bart” Simpson and destroyed its first boat.
Luna Rossa and Team Emirates argued successfully that changes to the runner design of the AC72s would have given the American teams an unfair advantage.
The jury instructed Murray to bring all this information before the US Coast Guard, which must now decide whether to modify the permit granted for the races.
Murray had said that if the jury ruled against his safety recommendations, he would advise the Coast Guard to revoke the permit on grounds that the yacht races were unsafe.
Team Artemis, the Swedish team, has said it would pull out of the races if Murray was overruled because, they said, they do not have enough time to modify their second boat.
Emirates Team New Zealand said in a statement that it was pleased the jury “has maintained the sanctity of the AC72 Class Rule in ruling that it can be changed only by unanimous consent of the competitors and the Regatta Director.”
The Kiwis added that they believe the jury’s decision “does not affect the substance of the safety plan” submitted with the application to the U.S. Coast Guard for a permit or “the excellent work the Regatta Director undertook with the Review Committee.”
The Kiwis also said they’d like to help Artemis Racing, which has said it doesn’t have the proper rudders to comply with the rules.
The Kiwis said they have proposed that when Artemis is ready to race, it be given dispensation from the class rule regarding rudder elevators as long as it otherwise complies with the class rule and safety recommendations.
“This would require the consent of the other competitors and we would strongly urge this be given,” the New Zealand statement said. “Artemis Racing is making a tremendous effort under difficult circumstances to get back on the race track and deserve support to help them achieve this.”
Tom Ehman, vice-commodore of the Golden Gate Yacht Club, which is trustee of the America’s Cup, said Murray’s 37 safety recommendations affected the protocol, the racing rules and the AC72 Class Rule. The teams agreed to amend the racing rules and the protocol, but seven changes that affected the class rule weren’t agreed on unanimously. Murray thought he could accomplish that through the event permit.
America’s Cup CEO Stephen Barclay said racing can continue if the teams abide by the existing class rule and safety rules.
“If the teams take this step, it will ensure the safety plan remains intact and the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Event Permit is unaffected,” he said.
Murray said Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa are complying with both the AC72 Class Rule and the safety rules. He said he’ll need to discuss with the teams how the jury decision affects Artemis Racing.
Artemis said it was disappointed that the jury’s decision leaves uncertainty but that it remains confident a solution will be found.
“It’s a bit of a tempest in a tea pot,” Ehman said. “There always seems to be some kind of controversy and they all get sorted out. I’m confident this one will as well.”
The Italians weren’t immediately available for comment.
Oracle Team USA said in a statement that it respected the decision of the jury, continues to support Murray and that it believes all teams have benefited from his review.
Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena said last week that the Italians would not race until the jury ruled, but that they would return regardless of the panel’s decision. They sat out the regatta’s opening race on Sunday against the Kiwis.
Now, the regatta could see its first real race on Saturday, when Luna Rossa is scheduled to face Emirates Team New Zealand.
The Kiwis have twice sailed around the course alone, including the race the Italians boycotted and on Tuesday when Artemis Racing was the scheduled opponent. They have shown remarkable speed, reaching nearly 50 mph on Thursday.
Emirates Team New Zealand was practicing on San Francisco Bay on Thursday, appearing to shadow the Italians as they finished their race.
Artemis CEO Paul Cayard said Saturday that his syndicate was about two weeks from beginning sea trials.
(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)