The 34th America’s Cup starts Saturday afternoon and defending champion Oracle Team USA still doesn’t know how severely it will be punished for illegally modifying prototype catamarans in warmup regattas last year and earlier this year.
Organizers said late Monday afternoon that an expected decision by the international jury had been pushed back until Tuesday.
The penalties could be the harshest in the 162-year history of sailing’s marquee event, adding another stain to a regatta marred by the death of British sailor Andrew “Bart” Simpson when challenger Artemis Racing capsized during a training run on May 9.
While the jury has worked in confidentiality, there’s been speculation that Oracle Team USA could be docked a point or two in the best-of-17 America’s Cup match against Emirates Team New Zealand on San Francisco Bay. It’s also possible that some sailors could be barred from competing.
If the jury docks Oracle Team USA points, it’s believed that the powerhouse sailing team would be forced to start the regatta in a negative position. That would require it to win more than nine races to retain the oldest trophy in international sports. Team New Zealand would still need to win nine races to take the Auld Mug back to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in Auckland, its home from 1995-2003.
The illegal modifications to three 45-foot catamarans came to light in late July when the boats were being prepared for the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, which began Sunday. The AC45s, sailed in the America’s Cup World Series, were prototypes for the high performance, 72-foot catamarans being sailed in this summer’s America’s Cup regatta.
Russell Coutts, a four-time America’s Cup winner who’s the CEO of Team Oracle USA, has said that the illegal modifications were done without the knowledge of management or the skippers. The modifications consisted of adding about five pounds of ballast.