Matthew Sheahan gets a whiff of a rules issue outside the Mascalzone Latino base

 Don’t be surprised if you notice a strange smell outside the Mascalzone Latino base today. Following a jury hearing late last night the decorators are in making a last minute change to ITA99 in order to make her legal.

Under the class rules, Cup boats are only allowed to use two specific types of paint on the outside of their hulls, Mascalzone Latino was discovered to have used another, non approved, surface coating. Following the hearing the team has been fined 10,000Euros and told to repaint the boat before she races again. Fortunately the Italians, had a bye today which allows them sufficient time to carry out the work. Had they not have had the extra time, it’s difficult to see how they could have complied.

But how could such a situation arise at such a late stage?

As usual the issue is not a clear cut one. When teams enter the Cup they need to sign a document that states that they will comply with the class rules, the Italian team did this but are said to have also attached an additional note stating the hull coating that they had used. Whether this was missed by the measurement committee is unclear. The issue only surfaced a few days ago when samples for each of the boats that were sent for analysis in March this year were returned. The post analysis identified that the Italian paint job was not one of the approved two.

So why the fuss anyway?

Surface coatings have long been an issue in the America’s Cup and for good reason. The principle of altering the resistance of a hull by modifying it’s boundary layer is well known. Fast swimming fish such as dolphins are believed to change the cross sectional shape of their skins’ surface to change the boundary layer and allow them to swim more efficiently at high speed. Man made vessels can achieve similar results by modifying the water close to the surface of the hull by leeching chemicals to change the water’s viscosity. Not a very green approach granted, but it does work.

While no-one is suggesting that Mascalzone Latino have been trying to cheat, it’s easy to understand why others might object to this late discovery of non-rules compliance, in particular, the Spanish Desafio Espanol team who are fighting with the Italians for a semi final place.

But even assuming that this is simply an accident, this is the second time that the Italians have tripped up when it comes to measurement of their boats. Last year the team realised at the last that their first boat ITA90 was about to be shipped out of the country without the appropriate measurement paperwork.

The basic hulls of ACC boats have to be built and measured in the country of their challenge to comply with the rules. When the mistake was realised there were a few panicked phone calls, a long drive through the night for a measurer, (who by chance was in Italy at the time), a last minute measurement and some very red faces.

The problems come at a particularly inconvenient time for the team as it considers how to turn it’s fortunes around as the semi finals draw closer. In a message sent out by syndicate head Vincento Onorato, the Mascal Latino boss announces that helmsman Flavio Flavini is to be replaced by Kiwi helmsman Cameron Dunn.

‘Five losses in a row have seriously affected our morale,’ he said. ‘My men are not depressed but angry, with a real desire to recover and that is exactly the way I’d like them to be.”

Meanwhile on the race course today it was too much wind, rather than too little, that blew offshore and blew off the racing on both courses. The westerly breeze built from 19 to 14 knots just a few metres off the surface and as the time ticked by, the sea state built, suggesting that the breeze would have to drop even further before racing could begin.

Unlike the Auckland situation where hard wind limits were set and an alarm went off when a particular average had been exceeded, the Notice of Race gives guidelines as to the wind limits and with it far more flexibility for the race officers to create the kind of racing that the Challengers want. Despite what the new found razzmatazz that surrounds new, bigger, brighter more TV aware America’s Cup might suggest, the Louis Vuitton Cup is still about finding and developing the best possible Challenger to go head to head with the Defender.

Not sailing when the conditions top 23 knots may well be frustrating for spectators, especially given the recent delays, but the boats were never designed for these conditions. Instead they were designed to be fully powered up in 10 knots of breeze, and for a very good reason. These are the conditions that are expected come the big match itself.

The big question is that with such a mixed bag of weather and such a cold Spring down here, whether the weather will play ball come the Cup.

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