The attempt to modernize the stodgy old America’s Cup is slowing the regatta’s momentum and holding a boatload of New Zealanders on match point.
Trying to fit racing into a nice, neat two-hour TV window does not quite work in a sport that relies on wind and tides that keep their own schedule and do not always cooperate.
Race 14 was postponed on Saturday because the wind had not settled in from the desired direction by the 2:40pm cutoff time. That forced Emirates Team New Zealand and defending champion Oracle Team USA back to shore to await perhaps better conditions yesterday.
Regatta director Iain Murray did not want to send the high-performance catamarans into skewed conditions with so much at stake.
A front that drenched San Francisco with late-morning rain brought wind from the south. It never swung back to the west-southwest breeze the course is set up for.
The New Zealanders have been sitting on match point since Wednesday, leading 8-3 and needing one more win to wrest the oldest trophy in international sports away from software tycoon Larry Ellison.
The stakes are high for the Oracle team as well, since one more loss will see the America’s Cup sail away from US shores for the third time since 1983. Docked two points in a cheating scandal, the well-funded powerhouse has won four of the last six races. It needs six more wins to keep the Auld Mug.
On Friday, Race 13 was abandoned due to a 40-minute time limit, with Team New Zealand well ahead on the fourth leg of the five-leg course in light wind. Team Oracle won the rematch of Race 13 to stay alive for the second straight day.
It was the seventh time organizers had to abandon or postpone a race since Sept. 14. Both races on Tuesday were blown out.
The regatta has been plagued by the convergence of rules set more than a year ago and changes made following the death of British double Olympic medalist Andrew “Bart” Simpson when Artemis Racing’s catamaran capsized on May 9.
This is the first time in its 162-year history that the America’s Cup has been contested inshore. Besides taking advantage of racing on the spectacular San Francisco Bay, organizers have tried to make the regatta more TV friendly with shorter races on a five-leg course between the Golden Gate Bridge and America’s Cup Park on Pier 27-29.
The Oracle team and the challengers decided on most details last year, including having two races a day and a time limit for the races in order to fit into a two-hour TV window.
“The rules are the rules,” said Murray, an Australian who lost the America’s Cup in 1987 to Dennis Conner. “We did not make them. They were made by the teams and the teams have to abide by them.”
The first five postponements and abandonments were due to wind exceeding the limit. Race 9 was postponed with the challengers ahead on the windward third leg.
Perhaps the most painful moment of the regatta for the New Zealanders, other than their near-capsize on Sept. 14, came on Friday when the 40-minute clock ran out in Race 13 with Team New Zealand far ahead of the American boat. When Race 13 was resailed, Team Oracle won to stay alive.
The original wind limit was 33 knots (61kph). After Simpson was trapped under the twisted wreckage of Artemis Racing’s catamaran on May 9, the limit was reduced to 23 knots as one of 37 safety recommendations Murray made.
The wind limit is offset by the tide. When an ebb tide is flowing out of San Francisco Bay, it reduces the wind limit.
Some have wondered why races do not start earlier in the day. However, the decision to set the start times at 1:15pm and 2:15pm for TV was among those made more than a year ago. At the time, the wind limit was still 33 knots and no one thought that would be a factor.
The Oracle team offered to increase the wind limit earlier in the week, but the Kiwis declined, saying they would have done so before the regatta, but not well into it.