Greetings from sunny and warm San Francisco, the venue of the 34th America’s Cup. Our coverage starts today with the media event Luna Rossa held at their base at noon. Unfortunately, due to my flight’s late arrival I missed the event Luna Rossa’s neighbors, Emirates Team New Zealand, held earlier in the morning where the media were treated to a nice sailing session on the Bay. One hears, without pushing too much, Dean Barker and his crew reached 35 knots of boat speed at some point. Oracle Team USA will hold a similar media presentation on Wednesday.
Luna Rossa’s skipper, Max Sirena, took the dozen or so journalists to a guided tour of some parts of the immense Italian base that looks more like a military compound rather than a base of a sailing team. Gone are the days of fancy, 10-million euro bases in Valencia and the notion of a race village. In fact, the four teams are dispersed around San Francisco and the bay. The Kiwi and Italian “friends” are next-door to each other on Pier 32, while Oracle Team are based 5 miles further south on Pier 80 and Artemis are across the bay in Alameda.
Sirena’s tour was brief and didn’t reveal anything extraordinary, other than probably the controls of the second wing, which, unfortunately, were the only thing we were asked not to photograph. We saw the gym where the team’s trainer “kills” the sailors every morning, with the exception of Sirena because he said he could always find the excuse he had a meeting.
We were then shown the wing shed, where the team’s two wings are stored. According to the rules, each team is allowed to build three of them but the Italians will only have two. As expected, the second one will be used for the Louis Vuitton Cup. According to Sirena, both wings have practically identical shapes but differ in the way they are controlled. The main difference is the added ability of twisting the front part of the main spar. Unfortunately, that was the only thing off-limits for our cameras.
The final stop of the tour was the boat shed where the Italian AC72 was undergoing further modifications. According to Sirena, there is still a lot of development going on and Luna Rossa will use the Louis Vuitton Cup round robins as a testing and development period. The goal is for Patrizio Bertelli’s team and boat to have reached their race configuration before the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals. The Luna Rossa AC72 was scheduled to dock out two hours after we left the base and sail for a short time in the vicinity where the breeze was lighter in order to test the latest configuration.
However, it was clear that the true reason behind the media event was for Luna Rossa to further express their uttermost disagreement with the recent changes in the AC72 rule that Regatta Director Iain Murray imposed. Luna Rossa’s counselor Luis Saenz also held an interview with the Italian newspaper La Gazzetta Dello Sport where he defined Murray’s actions as “scandalous”, “unacceptable” and “deplorable”. He informed journalists that shortly after our visit he was also going to file a protest with the international jury. While it might differ in the details with the protest Emirates Team New Zealand filed, in substance they were very similar.
Both Sirena and Saenz insisted that the changed had nothing to do with safety. They were about performance and he was ready to fight against that “bullshit”. He didn’t answer my question what would happen if their protest were overturned by the Jury but he did raise an interesting question as to why weren’t such changes made after Oracle’s capsize last October. He claimed that the changes were made to fit Oracle’s design as he claims they have been sailing with the new rudders since the launch of their second boat. In fact, in his opinion, Oracle’s second boat would have never been measured as an AC72 if it weren’t for the latest rule changes. Why would anyone, he asked, design and build a boat that didn’t follow the class rules if they didn’t have the intention to later modify those same rules?
Even if he doesn’t explicitly mention Oracle, in his view the changes are made in order to fit the Defender’s design because apparently they got wrong the position of the rudders and wanted a way to remedy that. In the video above, Sirena explains the technical details of the issue.
What both Sirena and Saenz find also unacceptable is the fact these changes were made a mere week before the start of the Louis Vuitton Cup. It is further puzzling the fact the Jury will convene the day AFTER the first race of the Louis Vuitton Cup round robin. For Sirena, this whole issue would be unthinkable in Formula 1, a sport America’s Cup organizers often refer to. Imagine, Sirena said, that Ferrari was developing a 2.2-liter engine while the limit was 2 liters. Then suddenly, a week before the start of the Formula 1 season, Bernie Ecclestone unilaterally decided to allow engines up to 2.2 liters and let the teams the ability to choose!!
These issues make the America’s Cup to be the America’s Cup. Otherwise it would be just another regatta, just another sailing event. The issue however, is who will now sponsor a challenger, knowing that the defender can unilaterally change the rules by imposing a last-minute Coast Guard rule?