New Zealand spurns big rule changes as it preps for America's Cup

Fri May 31, 2013 5:44pm EDT
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By Noel Randewich

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The head of New Zealand's America's Cup team has sharply rejected the idea of major changes to the sailing competition's high-tech catamarans in the wake of an accident that killed a British sailor.

Grant Dalton, managing director of Emirates Team New Zealand, told Reuters on Thursday that he supported new safety rules put forward last week by event organizers. But he dismissed suggestions by some sailors, including members of the Artemis Racing team that suffered the accident, that big changes such as smaller sails or power-assisted on-board controls were necessary.

"That's not going to happen. That's a fundamental change to systems that if they couldn't get right in the first place, that's their problem," Dalton said before heading out for a practice session on San Francisco Bay.

Artemis' 72-foot (22-metre) catamaran capsized and broke apart on May 9 during a training session and killed British Olympian Andrew Simpson, who was trapped under the wreckage. The accident raised questions about the fundamental soundness of the huge, lightweight boats, which can reach speeds of close to 50 miles per hour (80 kmh).

Software mogul Larry Ellison won the cup in 2010, and the defending champion is entitled to choose the venue and set the rules for the next competition. Ellison and his sailing team hoped the big, fast boats, called AC72s, would boost interest in the event, but their cost and complexity kept some competitors away, and only four teams are competing for the trophy.

The competition is scheduled to kick off in July and culminate in a final match in September.

Dalton and his team, which arrived in San Francisco earlier in May, are prepping eagerly for the competition. Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA were both blazing around San Francisco Bay in moderate winds on Thursday, practicing their turns, monitoring boat performance and spying on one another.

REGATTA IN FLUX   Continued...

Emirates Team New Zealand sails in San Francisco bay May 31, 2013. REUTERS/Noel Randewich