Rubbing Old Salt into the wounds

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Above: A model of an ancient Greek trireme

Team Oracle has released its protocol for the next America’s Cup, but concerns have been raised about the fairness of the new rules.

The 78 page document released by Oracle yesterday sets out how the next America’s Cup will be run.

Oracle is demanding that challengers sign up and pay a US$2 million entry fee by 8 August this year, even though no venue has yet been confirmed. This demand may rule some teams out of the contest, including Team New Zealand.

“It makes it tough for us,” said Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton. “We can’t get funding for the team until we have a venue. But at this stage all we know is that the event will be held somewhere in Larry Ellison’s swimming pool.

“The problem is his swimming pool’s so bloody big it doesn’t narrow things down much for us.”

The next event will also involve a new format, including an initial challenger series that Oracle will participate in. A controversial new rule allows Oracle to build two AC62 boats for the final playoff series, while challengers will be limited to only one.

“It’s not ideal,” conceded Grant Dalton. “Nor is the rule requiring the final challenger to tow a 20-tonne weight behind them as they race.”

Dalton said the challenger series format would stretch Team New Zealand’s capabilities.

“We haven’t seen this sort of regatta before, at least not since the times of the ancient Greeks,” said Dalton. “The requirement to fight the challenger series out in fleets of triremes is going to present some real logistical challenges for us

“We’d like to think we could put together a fleet of maybe fifteen or twenty triremes with a little help from our confirmed sponsors,” said Dalton.

“But we’ll be up against some well-funded teams, so realistically we need to plan for a fleet of at least a hundred ships if we want to be competitive in the challenger series. We will be talking to the government to see what help they can provide, because we’ll need access to thousands of tonnes of timber, and a team of at least 20,000 people to crew the fleet.

“Conditions for rowers below deck during the races will be appalling,” said Dalton, “so we may need the government to change our health and safety laws to enable us to train at our New Zealand base.

“We will also need to get up to speed quickly on tactics. Those ancient vessels don’t sail well, and we’ll have to do a lot of work on our ramming and boarding techniques.

Dalton admitted he was troubled by rumours that Oracle would contest the challenger series in USS Nimitz, a 100,000 tonne nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with 90 combat aircraft and a crew of thousand.

“It won’t be easy if we are forced to take on the world’s most potent warship with nothing but a fleet of flimsy wooden ships. Even if Nimitz’s vast air wing doesn’t wipe us out utterly within the first five minutes, I’m not sure how we can ever hope to get alongside this giant ship and board her.

“But every defender sets the rules to suit themselves. That’s one of the things that make the America’s Cup so fascinating.”

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said the government was open to the possibility of funding a fleet of triremes to contest the America’s Cup.

“The event is a great showcase for New Zealand talent and our can-do attitude,” said Mr Joyce. “The economic benefits to New Zealand could be potentially huge. There’s a great opportunity here for New Zealand to lead the way in building obsolete and unseaworthy wooden ships.

“The great thing about the America’s Cup is that anything can happen. We saw that last time, when we thought Oracle were down and out. So who’s to say a brave little Kiwi fleet of wooden ships wouldn’t prevail over such terrifying American naval power?”