Dailies miss the backstory on the America's Cup ruling

Larry Ellison may be racing against his own ambitions, but he's not the only boat in this race, and rules are rules.

Yesterday’s ruling against a last minute rule change in the America’s Cup was duly reported in today’s Chronicle and Examiner. But as with much of the reporting presented in the mainstream media these days, it was tough to discern what’s really going on here or why the ruling came down as it did.

Luckily for Guardian readers, they’ve been privy to the excellent reporting by Amanda Witherell, who understands both boats and bullshit and set up this decision with an insightful backstory report in this space a couple days ago, “Is Larry Ellison cheating?” with an assist by Guardian staff writer Rebecca Bowe, who is also quite familiar with boats and bullshit.

Here’s the key thing that both papers missed or glossed over: Ellison’s team has been training with this new rudder design on one of its two boats since April, back when it wasn’t even allowed by the rules. And when an Artemis Racing sailor tragically died in May, the home team slipped the rudder design allowance into new “safety precautions,” although it didn’t require it of the New Zealand and Luna Rossa teams, which one would think they would have if it was really about life and death.  

Which it isn’t, say Witherell’s sailing sources. In fact, these longer rudder stabilizers could even be more dangerous because they extend beyond the side of the hull and could run a greater risk of seriously injuring a sailor who slips over the side. What this was really about is changing the rules at the last minute in a way that would benefit Ellison’s team, and that effort has now been struck down by a international jury that oversees the sport.

Ellison is now presiding over these races from his ridiculously large personal yacht docked at Pier 23, a vessel the size of a small cruise ship. His people have booked big name entertainers for him to enjoy, as is customary for events thrown by tech gazillionaires. And he’s created a race using boats that are more expensive and faster -- and therefore more inherently dangerous -- than any in America’s Cup history, which has been roundly criticized in the sailing world for promoting elitism in the sport.

So it’s good to see that Ellison’s wealth and power can’t buy every single thing he wants, with his initial waterfront real estate deal rejected by progressive San Franciscans, and now his gambit to seek a competitive advantage on the water rejected by the sailing community.

BTW, grab next week’s Guardian to catch Amanda’s latest report on the America’s Cup as competitive sailing finally gets underway in the San Francisco Bay this weekend. And one more thing: Go New Zealand!