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Why New Zealand paid the penalty

Emirates Team New Zealand (File photograph by Talbot Wilson)

In America’s Cup competition, teams cannot make errors and expect to win. Emirates Team New Zealand did, and win they didn’t.

Race director Iain Murray told reporters yesterday morning: “In the Q&A rules interpretation meetings held by chief umpire Richard Slater with the teams, there have been a lot of questions coming down about the starts and what can happen. It’s a growing area of concentration for the teams. They want to get the advantage in the start. That is going to translate into more aggressive starting in this do-or-die situation over the next week.”

In Saturday’s important Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifier race between Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA, aggressive starting resulted in a double penalty for Team New Zealand. They were the windward keep-away boat approaching the starting mark and tried to force their way in between the mark and Oracle’s 17.

Oracle had to fall off the wind to keep clear and that allowed New Zealand to squeeze through and get ahead.

But to Jimmy Spithill on Oracle, that was a penalty. He pushed the button asking for a foul call, and got it. Since the infraction also gave New Zealand the lead, called an advantage, the Kiwis got a double foul and had to give up four boat lengths.

That error and an out-of-bounds double penalty later in the race essentially gave the win and the one-point advantage in the upcoming America’s Cup Match to Oracle, forcing the ultimate challenge to win eight races instead of seven to lift the “Auld Mug”. They were two costly errors that no one can afford at this level of yacht racing.

At the Sunday morning race management and rules briefing, Slater explained those penalties called in the New Zealand– Oracle match on Saturday.

He said the incident at their start was essentially a barging, “no room at the mark” penalty against the Kiwis. “As we agreed with the teams, straight away that was a double penalty because it is obviously gaining advantage by breaking the rule,” he said. “So it goes straight to double penalty.”

The second penalty at the bottom of the course was an out-of-bounds penalty against New Zealand. “When they come back in they have to lose two boat lengths. It was a bit shifty at the time and that made it hard to lose two boat lengths. They nearly paid it off, but unfortunately they sped back up again.”

“If you have a penalty and you tack or gybe, you will get another penalty. You can’t offset your penalty loss with a tack or gybe loss of distance.”

Team New Zealand did tack so they got another penalty.

When you are going upwind, you have to give up two boat lengths dead downwind — that is 30 metres VMG, velocity made good, and that is really more than a direct-line distance between the boats.