International jury rules that keel on one of its boats is illegal and hands out a serious penalty. Matthew Sheahan reports from Alicante

‘It’s all about 625grammes of air,” explained Richard Brisius, Ericsson Racing Team’s Managing Director in a press conference following an earlier announcement by the international jury that the team would face serious penalties if one of its boats didn’t comply with the measurement requirements.

Ericsson Racing’s boat number three, sailed by the ‘Nordic team’, is the boat in question that finds herself embroiled in an issue that has been rumbling along in the background for months.

The issue relates to a keel which has been deemed by the measurers to have voids, a feature that is illegal under the VO70 class rules. The team says that it filled the voids with steel rods in order to rectify the situation, but the measurers remained unhappy that the voids had been completely filled. Although the measurers asked that a 625gramme weight corrector should be fitted to the boat to ensure that there was no performance advantage, today’s ruling made it clear that in the Jury’s view the boat is still not legal and while it would not prevent the team from racing, a penalty would apply so long as the boat raced without a valid certificate.

So, with just one day to go before the points start clocking up on the scoreboard with the in port race on Saturday, the Ericsson team has been told that if it’s boat number 3 races with a non compliant keel, it will be penalised 1 point for each in port race, a point at each scoring gate and two points for each leg, until the keel is deemed legal. With normal scoring worth half a point for in port racing and scoring gates and one point for each leg win, the effect would be to penalise the team by two places every time they infringed. On the face of it a harsh penalty, but one that appears to make it clear that the kind of leniency that may have been shown in previous events will not exist this time around.

“We are really surprised and shocked by the decision,” said Brisius. “We are shocked at the severity of the penalty which is at a level we’ve never seen before.”

According to the class rule the keel fin has to be solid, so why the voids in Ericsson’s fin?

“In the first case they were there to gain a performance advantage and we believe they were supported by confidential interpretations,” explained the team’s legal adviser, Luis Saenz. “Then, later definitions of what constituted solid made these voids illegal.”

From the tone of the press conference it was clear that the ruling has come as a blow to the team who would not comment on whether it would consider withdrawing one or both of its boats from the event.

“We think the jury needs to consider more evidence,” said Brisius.
Yet it’s difficult to see how this might happen when earlier in the day Jury chairman Bryan Willis had made it clear that the judgement could not be appealed.

More puzzling was where the keel had been before today’s ruling. Dockside gossip suggests that the illegal fin had actually been aboard the International team’s boat, boat number four and that it had been switched to the Nordic team’s boat, presumably to ensure that the primary team could gain a valid certificate.

Furthermore it would suggest perhaps that the team does not have another spare that it could fit to ensure that boat number three complies.

“As you can imagine it was very difficult to explain to the crew of Ericsson 3, the rookie crew, why they would be losing points over 626grammes,”

The issue is clearly about more than a small bag of air. At present the only positive news for the team appears to be that the Jury ruled that it cannot score negative points. Cold comfort as the clock counts down.

Click Here for the full Jury Decision