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Kiwis kick off America’s Cup trials

New Zealand races alone with San Francisco’s Coit Tower in the background Sunday. (Associated Press)
New Zealand races alone with San Francisco’s Coit Tower in the background Sunday. (Associated Press)

New Zealand earns 1st point; Italy protests

SAN FRANCISCO – With the Golden Gate Bridge looming to his right, Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker hit the starting line and immediately got his 72-foot catamaran speeding across the tops of the waves on hydrofoils.

The America’s Cup challenger trials were underway on San Francisco Bay and the Kiwis were clearly in control.

At one point, the boys from Down Under hit 42.8 knots in their high-performance cat, or just more than 49 mph.

Of course, it helped that there was no opponent.

Emirates Team New Zealand sailed alone around the course Sunday to collect the first point of the regatta. Their scheduled opponent, Italy’s Luna Rossa, boycotted, saying it won’t race until an international jury hears protests regarding rules changes made after Andrew “Bart” Simpson of Artemis Racing was killed in a capsize May 9.

Did it feel like a victory?

“No,” Barker said, “For us, it’s just another day of practice in terms of getting better for the knockout stages in August.”

While the Kiwis put on a show for spectators lining the shore, it was hardly what organizers had in mind after software tycoon Larry Ellison reclaimed the America’s Cup for the United States more than three years ago.

“I feel sorry for people coming down to watch to only see one boat sailing around,” Barker said. “People come down to see a contest and that’s what we should be putting on. We respect Luna Rossa’s decision not to sail. They’ve done it on their own decision, their own, merits, their own beliefs, but when you look at the shoreline, there were a lot of people there today, given it was just us sailing around alone. We need to make sure we give them something to watch.”

What needs to be done?

“We need another boat to turn up and go racing,” he said.

This is supposed to be the most eye-popping America’s Cup ever, with the sleek, space-age catamarans sailing three times the speed of the wind with a stunning backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the Transamerica pyramid.

It’s also the first time in the regatta’s 162-year history that it’s been contested inshore rather than miles out to sea.

But the contest for the oldest trophy in international sports has been bogging down since even before it started.

The accident that killed Simpson led regatta director Iain Murray to make 37 safety recommendations.