Safety and the America’s Cup – a Perfect Storm?


The Georgia Racing website, as it is headed, is “a website for the friends and family of Georgia Racing – Auckland New Zealand”.   Its focus is entirely on the racing activities of yachts that sail under the banner of “Georgia Racing”.  Currently, this is the 52 “Georgia” and the 43 “Georgia One”, both of which sail now only in New Zealand though in recent years they have also participated in a number of regattas in Australia.  Recently a BMW rally car was purchased and is developed for competition in the New Zealand Targa in October.   The point I am making, somewhat laboriously, is that Georgia Racing and its website is a local operation with no international pretensions.

However, clearly unwisely, earlier this week I decided to write a small article about the America’s Cup, past, present and future for those who normally read the website.  I guess I have reasonable qualifications for expressing some opinions that might or might not be of interest, having until recently been a director of Team New Zealand Limited since 2004 and also served recently on the special safety committee that was established to investigate the safety of the 2013 edition of the America’s Cup following the death of Andrew Simpson after the Artemis AC72 capsized and broke up in May.

Any examination of the present state of the 2013 Event cannot avoid the central and by far the major issue, namely safety and the steps that have been and are being undertaken to avoid, so far as it is possible to do so, further mishaps and death or injury during the racing that is about to start.  Without disclosing any confidential information obtained by the Safety Committee during its investigations, I dealt in my earlier article with that topic.  In so doing, I noted that two of the teams have expressed concerns that one of the safety recommendations made by the Regatta Director, Iain Murray, namely changes to the specifications of rudder elevators, would have a performance enhancing effect that would favour Oracle Racing.  I was very careful not to endorse that claim and in fact went on to suggest that cries of “grave Injustice” by one protagonist or another need to be considered with care.

My small, local article, intended for the “friends and family of Georgia Racing”, has however attracted a much wider audience and one team in the America’s Cup Event has interpreted what I said as an attack by me on the Regatta Director and as not supporting the safety measures that he recommended.

I have read and re-read my piece and fail to see how that is a reasonable interpretation of what I wrote.  Certainly I said that I thought that the ETNZ and Luna Rossa protests as to whether the rudder elevator change can be introduced other than by a change to the Class Rule (which requires unanimous consent of the competitors) should be upheld by the International Jury.  But that is a matter of legal argument that goes to the interaction between the Class Rule, the Protocol and the Coast Guard’s permit.  It says nothing about the merits of the Regatta Director’s safety recommendations.

So that there is absolutely no misapprehension about my position on this latter question, let me first repeat what I said in my earlier article: “Iain Murray can surely be forgiven for erring on the side of caution in his 37 safety recommendations.”  And, in case that is being interpreted as something less than a ringing endorsement of those recommendations, let me say now, loud and clear and in capitals:

1.    I SUPPORT AND FULLY AGREE WITH THE REGATTA DIRECTOR’S SAFETY RECOMMENDATIONS – EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM.
2.    I SUPPORT THE ATTEMPTS MADE BY THE REGATTA DIRECTOR TO FIND A WAY OF IMPLEMENTING EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THOSE RECOMMENDATIONS.  I WISH HIM ALL THE BEST IN THIS ENDEAVOUR.
3.    IF THE JURY CANNOT FIND A LEGAL WAY OF IMPLEMENTING THOSE PROPOSALS AGAINST OPPOSITION, I IMPLORE ALL OF THE TEAMS AND THE EVENT AUTHORITY, THE GOLDEN GATE YACHT CLUB AND THE US COASTGUARD TO HELP HIM DO SO BY SENSIBLE NEGOTIATION THAT PUTS SELF-INTEREST ASIDE.

In this respect, I did express the view in my earlier article that: “One has to hope that somewhere along this tortuous event common sense will prevail….”

When presenting his safety recommendations, Iain Murray made 3 points that should not be lost sight of:

(1)    “The majority of the recommendations represent a consensus of the Competitors.”   (I can add to that my own impression that when the committee interviewed team members from all teams, which it did on an individual basis, it was very clear that there was not a great deal of difference in the views being expressed throughout the process.)

(2)    “No recommendations can cover all possible risks or address risks that are specific to Competitor specific designs.”

(3)    “No recommendations can ever eliminate risk of injury or death in what is an inherently risky activity, and the participants must assume full responsibility for all risks involved.”

That is the nature of the thing.  But, in his endeavours to find a way of minimising those risks as far as possible, Iain Murray is entitled to the support of the teams, of the Event Authority and the Golden Gate Yacht Club, as well as the Coast Guard itself, to find a sensible way through the thicket.  It may well be that, at the end of the day, a legal outcome that achieves his safety objectives proves not to be possible.   If that is the case, common sense has to come to the fore and everyone involved has to stand back and take a long look at the positions they have taken.

Jim Farmer

Georgia Racing

4 July 2013