Is 'no' really 'no' in America's Cup measurement? Chief measurer Ken McAlpine sheds some light
As a lawyer friend of mine once said when explaining the process of getting someone else to confirm a specific fact, ‘never ask a question unless you know the answer.’
If you’re a Cup team trying to define and create a legal route through to an innovative solution, it’s an approach you may wish to adopt.
Chief measurer Ken McAlpine is well aware of the ploy. Just like a witness under cross examination, sometimes seemingly innocent questions can lead to a more punchy conclusion from which there’s no escape.
“We are very aware of the possibility of being led up the garden path,” said Ken McAlpine in a press briefing earlier today.
“Sometimes we get a batch of questions where one question leads to another, then another, then another and you’ve got to be very careful. Quite often the question is not the one that they [the team] really want to know and we can find ourselves boxed into a corner. We are very conscious of that and when the first question comes we’re already thinking where this could be going.”
This morning’s briefing came following the growing speculation and confusion surrounding what may or may not be going on inside some of the boats along with what designers might have on their minds. And while the main focus is whether Alinghi might have a swing keel, the real issue is far subtler.
On the face of it, ‘fixed’, as described by the rule, and defined by the Oxford dictionary for the purposes of the interpretation, means fixed.
So is a keel allowed to deflect?
The straight and simple answer is no.
Problem solved right?
Wrong. If the query is addressed in a different manner, perhaps the outcome is different.
Is there anything in the class rule that prohibits a boat’s shrouds being connected to the support structure for the keel?
“No. Normal practice in boat design would be to try and tie the chain plates into the centre structure of the boat. In that respect it’s not a rules issue, it’s common practice,” said McAlpine.
Could the measurers quantify any possible deflection when the boat is in its relaxed state for measurement?
“The measurers do look very carefully at the insides of all these boats and any linkage system would be obvious to us,” he said.
Yet presumably a team might argue that a linkage system was simply a tie rod?
“If you sketch this out I think you’ll see that it is pretty hard to do this without a linking system,” he continued.
Difficult, but maybe not impossible.
There’s no doubt that Ken McAlpine and his team have to tread a very fine line, have the kind of foresight that only comes with extensive experience and be on their guard for potential exploitations, all of which they do with considerable expertise. Meanwhile the big teams have big resources and every reason to look at the rule in minute detail. If they think they’re onto something, announcing it to the world through public interpretations is not the best way of keeping mum yet making sure it won’t outlaw their boat is also crucial.
Masts are just one example. Rotating masts are banned, their movement at deck restricted to just /- 2 degrees. Yet most teams have masts that twist 10 degrees or more towards the top thanks to some yet careful positioning of the shroud and stay attachments and some well constructed arguments as to why they are where they are. Rotating or twisting a mast, especially at the top where the apparent wind speed is higher, can offer a reduction in windage and drag. Everyone knows it and most are trying to achieve it.
No doesn’t always mean no. More often it ‘s a clue to ask a different question. One to which you feel more sure of knowing the answer.
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