Sunday, April 1, 2007

Illegal Cup Boats

Rules jiggered at the last minute!

Folks, this is not an April Fool's joke, it's real.

I know we're all buzzing on Unveiling Day about keels and fins and volume distribution and the very flat bottom of ITA 94, Luna Rossa, and the differing bulbs on the two Kiwi boats and on the BMW Oracles. But one clause of the ACC rule was rewritten last week, and pending confirmation, the change may not yet have the formal approval of the defender, and until it does, all 100 existing ACC boats are illegal under the terms of America's Cup 32. Alinghi. Luna Rossa. New Zealand. The whole shebang.

What in blue blazers is going on?

Well, it's all true, but before we go off the deep end let me confess that (in the spirit of April Fool's Day) I'm being devilish with the spin. There is no crisis and no scandal. But there was (oh my) one teensy-weensy little phrase in the ACC rule, Version 5, buried away in a Defined Terms list that nobody paid much attention to because everybody knew what it meant, and it led to the oh sheesh moment of the week when some hawkeyed legal freak gave V5 a close read and noticed that—no matter that we know what it's supposed to mean—what it really said is that lead ballast is illegal.

Imagine the surprise.

The last time I checked, everybody was using lead ballast.

Thus a proposal and vote at last week's meeting of the Challenger Commission to amend section 2.5(d) to allow defender and challengers at the 32nd defense of the America's Cup to use lead ballast.

The vote was unanimous. The motion, thus approved, was forwarded to the defender.

The crowds turned out for Unveiling Day on Sunday, also opening day for Port America's Cup; this Vicent Bosch photo from ACM 2007 tells the story. It's just as well they didn't know about this strange behind-the-scenes moment. Here is a statement from the AC 32 Challenger Commission:

ACC Rule Amendment

A draft amendment (no. 6) to Version 5 of the ACC Rule was presented by Technical Director Ken McAlpine. In the past week a minor but significant drafting error had been identified by the Measurement Committee in ACC Rule 2.5(d) which defines ballast. The wording error, which no one had noticed in more than three years since Version 5 was issued, effectively outlawed the use of lead in keels and appendages. Of course, every ACC yacht since the class's inception in 1990, including all ACC yachts currently in Valencia, have large amounts of lead in at least their keel bulbs. A small corrective wording change was unanimously approved by the Challengers, including by proxy the two teams not present. Pending approval by the Defender, which the Technical Director assured was forthcoming, Mr McAlpine said he would issue the amendment. Then all in the measurement world will, once again, be on an even keel.

In the ACC Rule, the offending Defined Term (now being redefined) reads as below. Note that in many popular versions of chemistry, the density of lead is given as 11,300 kg/ m³, and this text states that your ballast is to have a density " less than 11,300 kg/ m³."

"Ballast" means material used to provide stability and/or measurement compliance and has a density greater than 9000 kg/ m³ and less than 11,300 kg/ m³. Ballast may contain naturally occurring trace elements which have a density greater than 11,300 m³, however these trace elements shall not exceed one part per million. Elements with a density greater than 11,300 kg/ m³ shall not be added to the ballast in any quantity.

I checked myself by emailing Tom Ehman, who as director of external affairs for Challenger of Record BMW Oracle was also founding chairman of the Challenger Commission (he wrote the statement copied above). On his dawn-lit way to a double espresso and heavy duties on Unveiling Day, Tom responded:

actually the density of lead is 11.3400, and THAT was the problem. by the way, i think it was true that, under the old rule, the most dense material (and still be legal) a team could have used was silver. 8 million dollar bulb anyone?

Well, if you could melt it down again for the Queen's silver, why not?

At least this mix-up is good for a grin, and easily resolved, unlike the aggravated buzz last week over the failed VPP for upper-limit Transpac entries that had a lot of minimally-informed conspiracy theorists flipping their Budweisers.

Check this Chris Cameron shot of the Emirates Team New Zealand boats, which caused a buzz of their own by doing some tune-up sailing last week against the defender. Hmm.

ETNZ Chris Cameron