Oracle Team USA practices before the start of race three of the Louis Vuitton Cup semi final against Team Artemis Racing skippered by Iain Percy on August 9, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
The latest controversy in the America's Cup took an interesting turn when the measurement committee admitted that one of the three prototype boats owned by defending champion Oracle Team USA was not illegally modified during warm-up regattas last year.
In a statement released Friday, the Measurement Committee cited "miscommunication and-or a misunderstanding'' on its part in dealing with a boatbuilder who was preparing the 45-foot catamarans for the Red Bull Youth America's Cup in early September.
It previously had been announced that three Oracle boats had been modified without the permission of the measurement committee.
Oracle Team USA has been branded as cheaters by the two remaining challengers, Emirates Team New Zealand and Italy's Luna Rossa, who will meet in the Louis Vuitton Cup final starting Saturday on San Francisco Bay. The winner of that best-of-13 series advances to face Oracle Team USA in the 34th America's Cup starting Sept. 7.
It's not known whether the admission by the measurement committee will sway an international jury's investigation into the illegal modification of the boats by adding about five pounds of ballast. The 45-footers were prototypes of the high-performance, 72-foot catamarans that are being used in this summer's competition.
The jury could decide to punish individual employees or the syndicate itself. If the jury punishes the team, the sanction could be a fine, forfeiture of races in the best-of-17 America's Cup match or disqualification.
"It doesn't change the fact that we had some lead in the wrong place in the other boats and made some mistakes,'' Russell Coutts, the CEO of Oracle Team USA, told The Associated Press. "But it does help show that it wasn't a team-wide issue and this helps us to move forward, as well. I've always said management and the skippers were not involved.''
Oracle Team USA is owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle Corp.
Coincidentally, the boat that was cleared was Oracle Coutts 5, which was skippered by Coutts in some of the regattas in question. The boats that were illegally modified were ones sailed by Jimmy Spithill, Team Oracle USA's skipper, and Ben Ainslie, an Olympic star who's sailing with Oracle this summer in hopes of launching a British challenge for the 35th America's Cup.
Last week, Oracle said it was forfeiting its two season championships in the ACWS as well as individual regatta championships.
Coutts said the team plans to apply for reinstatement of the results obtained by Oracle Coutts 5. He said that boat was used by a Red Bull Youth America's Cup team in the regatta at Naples, Italy, last spring, and that that team had to forfeit its results, as well.
Oracle Team USA said last week that extra ballast had been put into struts near the front of the gennaker poles in the 45-footers.
He called it a "ridiculous mistake because it really didn't affect the performance.''
A report from the measurement committee to the jury was released Friday.
It stated in part: "Perhaps due to confusion in nomenclature, miscommunication, and/or a misunderstanding on our part, previous statements made by ACRM boatbuilder Glyn Davies to the Measurement Committee were interpreted by us as implying that forward kingposts had been modified on multiple boats. Our understanding of those statements was contained in our original report to the Regatta Director. This report is intended to correct any misinformation in our original report in this regard.''
The kingpost is a strut.
The measurement committee's mistake apparently was discovered on Tuesday when Oracle Team USA officials, who were conducting their own investigation, asked to see the boats. It was then that they were told that the measurement committee never looked at the boats.
Regatta director Iain Murray seemed non-plussed.
"Obviously communications between Oracle and the measurement committee and Davies, and what was written, was probably generalized,'' Murray said. "At the end of the day, I don't think it changes facts. There were illegal parts found. Whether they were on two or three boats, it wouldn't change the problem.''
Meanwhile, powerhouse Emirates Team New Zealand will take on former training partner Luna Rossa for the right to face Oracle Team USA for the oldest trophy in international sports.
The Kiwis had the best record after the round-robins and advanced straight to the challenger final. Since their last race on July 28, they put their 72-foot catamaran in the shed for modifications, practiced for a few days and then returned to the shed for more refinements.
"We set a new top speed record the other day at the end of practice,'' skipper Dean Barker said this week. "I can't say what it is, but almost every day the boat's going faster and faster and becoming more efficient. There are pretty good smiles coming off the boat.''
The fastest known speed by an AC72 was set by the Kiwis on July 18 when they hit 44.15 knots, or 50.8 mph.
Luna Rossa swept Artemis Racing in four races in the semifinals.
Luna Rossa, backed by the Prada fashion house, bought a first-generation design package from Emirates Team New Zealand to jump-start its program after entering the 2013 America's Cup late.
"Our boat is a first generation and the boats aesthetically look similar, but there are quite a few differences,'' Luna Rossa helmsman Chris Draper said. "If we had the opportunity to redesign things, then there are things we would've designed differently, which I imagine are the things they've done differently with their second boat. At the same time, there's not another design package we would've chosen to share.''
The Kiwis went 5-0 against the Italians in the round-robins, including the opener that Luna Rossa boycotted because of a rules dispute. The Kiwis twice beat the Italians by more than 5 minutes, and the closest margin was 2:19.
At the very least, the Italians certainly stand out. Their boat's twin hulls are chrome and their silver sailing gear, including crash helmets and life vests, make them look a bit like spacemen.
Two, five-leg races are planned each day. Each race will last approximately 25 minutes, with a break of about 30 minutes between races.
The same format will be used in the America's Cup match next month.