SAN FRANCISCO -- The initial projections left city officials and race promoters giddy.
Staging the 34th America’s Cup – sailing’s premier competition – in San Francisco would mean an extra $1.4 billion in economic activity and turn the race (normally held miles offshore) into a breathtaking spectacle for crowds of onlookers.
But things have started to fizzle.
Only about half the teams initially anticipated to compete signed on. The financial windfall estimate was reduced by about one-third. And two of the 72-foot catamarans suffered crippling accidents during training runs. A member of the Swedish team was killed.
Crowds did turn out Thursday for the multi-race competition's opening ceremonies. But on Friday a subdued regatta director, Iain Murray, announced that time trials had been canceled for the day because of high winds.
Meanwhile, one of only two teams scheduled to compete Sunday in the first scheduled race of the Louis Vuitton Cup challengers series is threatening to sit it out.
Italy’s Luna Rossa Classic skipper, Max Sirena, said his team may not race as a show of protest against eleventh-hour safety changes that require wider, heavier rudder wings to help stabilize the vessels.
"We are here to race, but we want to race with fair rules," he said. "We’re not going to accept a change of rules right before the event."
A jury convened by the International Sailing Federation is adjudicating the complaint but is not scheduled to announce its findings until Monday -- a day after the big race.
That would leave Emirates Team New Zealand sailing alone.
Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team USA is the defending champion and chose both the location and the type of cutting-edge boat, which some have criticized as unsafe. The team's 72-foot catamaran already has the wider rudder, leaving other teams grumbling.
Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill downplayed the complexity of the rudder requirement at the news conference with Murray and the other team skippers Friday, calling it "quite a simple adjustment" to Oracle's boat that involved a grub screw and an allen wrench.
“We know when our competition is meant to start,” Spithill added. “We’re ready to race. We can’t wait to get out there.”
For his part, Murray called the cancellation of time trials unfortunate but said: “We’ve always known July would be a tough month” for weather. Racing events are scheduled through September.
“With the geography and the natural amphitheater we have here in San Francisco… the complexity of these boats, the speed of these boats, what I would suggest to you is you’re probably in line to see the most amazing racing in sailing that’s ever happened in the world," he said. "I would urge you to stay patient, stay with us and be prepared.”
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