The Louis Vuitton challenger series starts with just one boat as the Italians refuse to take part

It has been a humiliating and stressful week for America’s Cup organisers and today saw no improvement with a pitiful start to the Louis Vuitton Challenger’s series as the Kiwis sailed around the course alone after their opponents Luna Rossa refused to take part.

The Italian team had announced the it would not compete in the first race of the round robin series and would not compete until the outcome of the protest against the race organisers that it had posted had been resolved.

“As everybody knows we have protested the introduction of new Class Rules without the unanimous agreement of the competing teams,” said Luna Rossa Challenge’s skipper Max Sirena. “By racing under these rules, enforced by the Regatta Director with Race Notices 185 and 189, we would somehow silently approve them. This is not the case. Therefore we have no choice but to stay ashore until the International Jury has reached a decision on the matter.”

This left the Kiwis with no one to race yet bound under the rules to complete the course to gain the first win of the series, a task that they completed with ease, charging around the course in 46mins 27secs and clocking a peak boat speeds of 42.8knots to notch up an average of 20.7 knots.

But while their numbers might be impressive, the start to this AC34 cycle can only be described as a disaster. Earlier in the week the parade of sail and speed sailing trials that were to open the summer of sailing, as it has been billed, had to be cancelled as there was too much wind. This event was a replacement for the fleet racing that was originally planned but a few months ago it became clear that fleet racing four high powered 72ft cats would be too risky. The parade of sail was seen as a safer way of revelling the teams to the public.

Yet for all the shock and drama of the Italian’s eleventh hour announcement, their no show was no surprise to those in the know in San Francisco. For weeks the talk around the docks has been about whether either of the teams would race during July, particularly now Artemis is out of the picture until August as they recover from their accident. The reason is that winning the round robin stage of the competition, that lasts the whole of July, only gets you straight to the final. With two boats in the fleet, both are already there so why risk damaging your boat in breeziest conditions of the summer, especially when you are still developing it?

At best there would only be one race a week through July – now it looks like there could be none, at least until the argument over the safety recommendations has been resolved.

The protest, for those that care, is to do with a change in the rules following regatta director Iain Murray’s 37 recommendations following the Artemis tragedy. (See previous story). If the protest is successful Murray has said that he will be forced to report back to the US Coast Guards that the boats are not safe, a move that could see the permits to race being rescinded.

It’s a mess and the only thing that is hotting up is the language.

In a local news report Oracle CEO Russell Coutts was quoted as calling the team, ‘a bunch of spoiled little rich kids dressed in Prada.’

Sirena’s response was that Coutts was way richer than him.

The tragedy is that the Cup appears to be ripping itself apart once again and making a mockery of what should be the most prestigious trophy in sailing.