-- Gale winds howled on the Hauraki Gulf today, producing the eighth straight day of no racing in the America's Cup and the specter of an event that could never end. That's not a joke: Under the rules it actually could happen.
The schedule for the best-of-nine Cup match between Alinghi and Team New Zealand shows five scheduled competition days left before racing ends March 6. With Alinghi leading, 3-0, six races could be needed to conclude the series.
Cup rules call for races to continue daily after March 6 if no one has won five, but each day's racing would be by mutual consent of the competitors. Both sides have veto power over nonscheduled race days, meaning a team in danger of losing could just say no -- forever.
"When we looked at the rules beforehand, it seemed okay," said principal race officer Harold Bennett, who has taken heat for the string of weather delays that stopped the Cup in its tracks. "But in this situation I have no control. It's in the hands of the competitors, as it has been for 150 years."
Today was a scheduled off day. Bennett asked the teams' permission to run a race if conditions were suitable. Alinghi, the Swiss challenger, agreed, but Team New Zealand, whose boat broke down in strong winds on opening day, cited gale warnings and opted out. In the end, winds were too strong to race, anyway.
Thursday is a scheduled race day with more strong winds expected. Friday is an off day, followed by scheduled race days Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday next week.
Bennett deflected accusations he's been favoring the home team in deciding when to race. The 59-year-old race officer, a member and employee of the club Team New Zealand represents, said conditions on canceled days so far have been unsuitable for fair racing.
Bennett said Cup rules giving competitors a say in deciding when to race "make it awkward for a person like me to do what I think is right. For those who have been involved, they know how the rules are written."
As if Cup organizers didn't have enough problems, they also were dealing with mailed terrorist threats, including a letter laced with cyanide. Letters addressed to the U.S. Embassy and British and Australian High Commissions were intercepted at an Auckland mail station; all three contained threats of terrorist acts if the United States attacks Iraq, including action against the Cup.
Police said a similar letter was received at the U.S. Embassy last year threatening terrorism against the New Zealand Golf Open featuring Tiger Woods, but nothing came of it.