Safety cloud hangs over America's Cup opening

Regatta director Iain Murray says he will cancel the event if fresh safety measures are not passed

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 July, 2013, 3:22am


The 34th America's Cup has been launched with a grand ceremony and a show of unity despite concerns the premier yachting event could be scuttled by a clash over late rule changes.

Opening festivities started with an Oracle team stunt plane performing aerobatics over the 9,000-seat America's Cup pavilion on the San Francisco waterfront.

Italian tenor Pasquale Esposito, Maori performers from New Zealand, a Swedish chorus and US "junk rock" group Recycled Percussion provided tastes of culture from the nations vying to hold the cup when the races end in September.

Team members were introduced on stage to cheers, with skippers from each squad voicing enthusiasm for the "summer of racing".

Watching from the audience was regatta director Iain Murray, who went on record with the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper saying he would cancel the event if an international jury did not back rule changes made in the name of safety.

Murray on Wednesday downplayed protests filed by Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa of Italy with the jury, which is to meet on Monday.

Despite the controversy, everything was in place for racing to begin tomorrow in the Louis Vuitton Cup, the series of races in which three teams are to battle for the right to take on defenders Oracle Team USA in the America's Cup finals in September.

Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa, scheduled to clash in the first race, argue that Murray exceeded his authority in some of the 37 safety rule proposals following the death of British sailor Andrew Simpson in May.

The crowd stood on Thursday as a video memorialising Simpson's life was played on giant screens.

Simpson died in a training accident in which the AC72 catamaran of Swedish syndicate Artemis Racing capsized, and Murray has held firm that rule changes aimed at preventing another such tragedy were within his authority.

Artemis will miss early rounds of racing as it recovers from the accident.

A huge support team is working "night and day" at the Artemis base in a former US Naval Air Station on the island city of Alameda across the bay from San Francisco, skipper Iain Percy said.

"It is obviously a terrible accident for us," Percy said. "It is really important to us to get back on the water and support this great event."

Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena and New Zealand team leader Dean Barker also were on stage.

"We are having a fantastic time," Barker said. "Conditions are challenging, but it will make for some amazing racing."

When asked whether Luna Rossa was ready to race, Sirena said: "We are always ready".