Well, five days taken off the practice schedule (the penalty handed down by the International Jury) may not seem like much, but considering that practice time on the big AC 72’s is limited, it might be indeed a big penalty.
As followers of the America’s Cup know, Emirates Team New Zealand and Italian Team Luna Rossa have been successfully practicing in the New Zealand coastal waters. From the beginning of their sailing their AC 72's, it became obvious both 72's were fast. Real fast!
Both the Italian and the New Zealand boat have clocked speeds of over 45 knots, and are able to quickly get up and sail on its foils. Watching this is an amazing sight. In the meantime, Oracle is still putting its first AC 72 back together after its pitch-pole accident in San Francisco last year.
What this means is that both teams are significantly ahead of Oracle in both practice time and boat knowledge. The apparent goal of Oracle in the spying case was to get close-up pictures of the Italian boat foiling. However, the America’s Cup rules prohibit competitor photography within 200 meters of an opponent, and the Oracle camera broke the 200 meter circle.
Luna Rossa filed a protest, won the protest and the Oracle penalty was the 5 day reduction of practice days. The penalty will take place in April, a critical time as the AC Series heats up for the big boats in July. In addition, there was a $15,000 fine penalty against Oracle (which is a drop in the bucket at this level of competition).
In perspective, the penalty could have been worse. Luna Rossa originally asked for 15 days of penalty time. Had that been the actual penalty, it would have indeed taken the wind out of Oracle’s wing.
Oracle expects its boat to be back in the water, fully repaired, by early February. It’s obvious that between the late start in 2012 and the loss of five days of practice sailing, Oracle is now facing a steeper uphill battle to defend its title.
Obviously only time will tell how big the penalty turns out to be.
Get out on the water, be safe and have fun!