America's Cup champion Oracle Team USA forfeited its overall championships from the first two seasons of the America's Cup World Series on Thursday after it was determined that its yachts were modified without the permission of the Measurement Committee.
The violation occurred when America's Cup teams were sailing 45-foot training yachts, before they launched the 72-footers that are being used in this summer's competition on San Francisco Bay.
While seemingly insignificant in the big picture, the violations are another smudge on an already troubled regatta.
At the very least, it's an embarrassing mistake by the powerhouse syndicate, which is owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison. While it won't affect the America's Cup trophy itself, Oracle will turn in some trophies won during four ACWS training regattas last year and earlier this year.
Syndicate CEO Russell Coutts, a four-time America's Cup winner, called the violations — adding about five pounds of extra ballast to each boat— a "ridiculous" mistake that didn't affect the boats' performance.
"This is a serious issue for us," Coutts said in a conference call with reporters. "It may have had little effect on the performance, but it's breaking the rules and the international jury may be obligated to conduct an investigation as to how it happened and establish whether people intentionally broke the rule."
Oracle turned itself in after discovering the violations while preparing the AC45 catamarans for teams that will sail in the inaugural Red Bull Youth America's Cup later this month.
Coutts said he couldn't disclose who made the illegal modifications. The syndicate said in a news release that they were made "by a small number of team members involved in the AC45 circuit, without the knowledge of management or the skippers, and without having followed standard internal procedures."
Coutts said the international jury could penalize Oracle Team USA, but doesn't think that's likely.
Late last year, Oracle was found guilty of spying on Italy's Luna Rossa Challenge while it trained in New Zealand. Besides a small fine, Oracle was docked five days of testing its 72-foot catamaran.
Coutts said the extra ballast was put into struts near the front of the gennaker poles in Oracle's two AC45s, and in a boat skippered by British star Ben Ainslie, who is sailing with Oracle in this Cup campaign.
"It was in some ways a ridiculous mistake because it really didn't affect the performance," Coutts said. "It was a ridiculous mistake to take the boat out of compliance anyway."
He said a quick analysis showed that the change affected the boat's trim by one-hundredth of a degree, "and actually had a negative impact on the performance of the boat."
"The fact is, we didn't comply with the rules," Coutts said. "It doesn't matter whether it helps you or not. If it doesn't comply with the rules, your boat's out of measurement and you have to withdraw."
The Oracle boat skippered by Jimmy Spithill won the 2011-12 and 2012-13 season championships. Additionally, Oracle's two boats, including the one helmed by Coutts, won several match racing and fleet racing championships at the regattas.
"We certainly don't condone breaking rules," Coutts said. "And even though the event's gone and past, if you do break the rules, and you make a mistake, then we may have to take some disciplinary action."
Oracle Team USA will begin defense of the oldest trophy in international sports on Sept. 7.
In the challenger trials, Luna Rossa holds a 2-0 lead over Artemis Racing of Sweden in the best-of-seven Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals. Race 3 is Friday. The winner advances to face Emirates Team New Zealand. The winner of that series moves on to face Oracle in the 34th America's Cup.
The regatta was marred by the death of British Olympic medalist Andrew "Bart" Simpson when Artemis' first 72-foot catamaran capsized on May 9. That led regatta director Iain Murray to recommend 37 safety changes, two of which were challenged by Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa. The Italians were so incensed that they boycotted the opening race of the Louis Vuitton Cup round-robins, forcing Team New Zealand to sail around the course alone to collect the point.
The international jury ruled in favor of the Italians and Kiwis.
Artemis missed the five round-robins because its new boat wasn't ready. On days Artemis was scheduled to race, its opponent, either Luna Rossa or Team New Zealand, had to sail around the course alone.