Iain Murray’s released his Safety Recommendations last week; a list of 37 changes to hopefully prevent another major injury or fatality during this summer’s matches. Murray forwarded the list to the US Coast Guard as part of ACRM’s permit requirements, and according to GGYC spokesman Tom Ehman, they will likely be incorporated into the permit and thus become ironclad rules for the regatta.
Cynics might think it all a bit suspect; after all, the tiniest suggestions for changing the protocol in the past have met with constant opposition and long jury hearings. Does it really seem logical for a hastily-thrown-together ad-hoc committee designed to ‘make recommendations’ to be given the power to fundamentally change the rules, equipment, and format of the event with a brushstroke and an email to the CG Commander? Add all that to the fact that the organizers wouldn’t even indemnify the “Expert Panel” from legal liability, instead relying on Murray alone to issue the recommendations, and you’d be right to call the whole thing suspect.
“Safety First” is GGYC’s stock answer for any such criticisms, peppered with claims that these recommendations will be required by the Coast Guard if the all-important Marine Event Permit is to be issued next month.
Let’s look at what Murray’s group actually said, because most of it is pretty damned sensible, even if it’ll never turn out the way the Panel recommends.
Some clever and simple safety recommendations are in Section 2 of the document; solutions the panel came up with after brainstorming, interviewing around 25 sailors and shore crew, and more brainstorming. Much of it came from their understanding of Simpson’s death; for instance, Bart’s helmet was heavily damaged after the crash and judged to be inadequate by the panel, and Murray’s recommendations include new helmet standards and body armor to prevent carbon-splinter punctures. Bart was hard to locate, so the recommendations include high-vis helmet colors. Similarly, the document addresses Bart’s lack of quick rescue by proposing to remove the limit on team support boats while requiring two rescue boats (though it is unclear whose rescue boats) to be on station when any AC72 sails. Easy to enforce, easy to implement, and all sensible. But even these basic ideas can have messy effects; for instance, what if body armor reduces agility enough to increase the danger aboard?
Some of the other recommendations are just not feasible in the month or so we have before racing begins. Underwater crew locator devices? Hands-free underwater breathing apparatus? Self-lowering equipment? All in 35 days?
Hide The Ball
Like some of the “Personal Equipment” regs above, most of the remaining recommendations, though sensible, fall far from the ‘low-hanging fruit’ category. What’s more, they are a mix of the vague, the hard-to-enforce, and the downright impossible, and some are in direct contravention of much of what Coutts and Ellison have been screaming from the rooftops since back in 2010. In fact it seems as though the new list is more of a ‘wish list’ than a reflection of reality, and it seems Murray is hoping no one notices…
When looking at the first recommendation of all, it helps to note that there has only been one major injury thus far, and that was the result of a structural failure. Despite their attempts to silence the Aussie journo who spoke to Outteridge’s dad, Artemis did indeed ‘fold like a taco’, and Bart Simpson died. So Murray’s first action item is to require competitors to complete a testing/third party review process for structural integrity of each boat and wing. That’s a great idea, very much in line with top level sportscar or F-1 racing. But if ACRM, funded by one of the world’s richest men, can’t even get insurance for an Expert Panel to make recommendations, which idiot engineer/designer is going to put their career in jeopardy to certify an AC-72 as “safe”?
But the biggest embarrassment to organizers comes from the new wind limits and schedules. For three years now we’ve listened – and bought into – the mantra that the ‘new’ AC won’t suffer from all those problems of the IACC pigs, which could only race when the wind was between 6 and 22 knots.
“TV networks just won’t deal with a lack of reliable starting times”, they said.
“We’ll race in anything from 3 to 33 knots,” they said.
“We’ll be on the water when the racing is at its most extreme, not on the dock”, they told us.
And guess what? Three years and tens of millions of dollars later, the TV coverage might be screwed by exactly the same wind limits as the fucking IACC in Valencia. Less, in fact – 20 knots is the ‘upper end’ for the LV Cup. Really? And now ACRM wants the ability to move the racing to an earlier start, essentially giving them the ability to start in whatever wind they want.
You might remember early last year when ACRM decided to go with one wing only for the 72 rule, a change justified in the name of saving costs. But despite everyone knowing just what San Francisco in the summer is like, the brain trust went with the monster wing rather than something remotely reasonable. Had the ‘cost saving measure’ change gone with the smaller wing, Oracle and Artemis might have saved a hell of a lot of money; two boats’ worth, at least. Not to mention the potentially massive costs to the teams and event of all the changes required by the new list of recommendations.
Does It Matter?
We’d expect Grant “Grumpy” Dalton to be the biggest complainer; for one, the Kiwi boss has proven he doesn’t mind rocking the boat, and for another, ETNZ has shown more skill and less drama in big conditions than anyone, all without capsizing or hurting anyone. Dalton surprised us by quickly stating that he thought the new rules were fine, but ETNZ Rules Advisor Russ Green dug into the big problems in his post the other day when he wrote “I cannot help wondering how the All Blacks would feel arriving at the World Cup in UK in 2015 to find that there were last minute proposals to change basic rules of the game in the name of player’s safety but which in effect favoured the slower stop/start style of the Northern Hemisphere teams?”
So why is Dalts suddenly so easy-going? We think we have a clue.
First, he really seems to trust fellow Antipodean Murray, and he’s known the man long enough to justify it. If Murray says they won’t move racing up unless it’s positively going to be too windy for a later race, Dalts probably believes him.
Second, Dalts seems confident that Artemis isn’t even going to make it to the line for the 20-knot max LVC, and even if they do, their huge disadvantage in nearly every possible category means they’re probably going to be more of a danger to themselves than to Luna Rossa or ETNZ on the scoreboard. That means Dalts only real competition is his team’s generation one boat. No worries, right?
Third, the 23-knot limit for the Cup match is pretty fucking reasonable in these boats with these wings. With Dalts believing that ETNZ should have a relatively easy time getting to the AC match, he wants a real race; in 25-30 knots these boats are just terrifying, and one 35-knot gust at the wrong time will end ETNZ’s match just as it would Oracle’s.
Fourth, the USCG doesn’t really give a shit about the actual safety of the racing boats; if they did, there would be far less racing in America than there is, and the RRS would be invalidated; after all, dialups and low-speed luff-ups before the bearaway are inherently dangerous maneuvers. Regardless, the CG permitting process focuses most of its energy on the public’s safety; something that only a few of Murray’s recommendations address.
And finally, Dalton is likely still unsure which of the recommendations will actually make it into the official Rules. Some of them require changes to the protocol, some require changes to the AC racing rules; most require some kind of a vote and a procedure or they are invalid – regardless of what the USCG issue as part of their permit. The government will have their say, but neither the Deed nor the Protocol give them any veto ability over the Rules, and it seems ETNZ is somewhat confident that the process will play out sensibly.
We’ll keep watching as the situation unfolds, and you can do your part by checking out the AC Review Panel thread.
In other news, the pussy German organization that dropped its support of the German Youth Red Bull AC team and announced their withdrawal in the wake of Simpson’s death seems to have been blown off; All-In Racing found the money to come and play after all. Gut gemacht, Jungs!