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America's Cup regatta may return to San Francisco in 2017

Members of Oracle Team USA wave to spectators after winning Race 16 of the 34th America's Cup yacht sailing race against Emirates Team New Z
Members of Oracle Team USA wave to spectators after winning Race 16 of the 34th America's Cup yacht sailing race against Emirates Team New Z

By Ronnie Cohen

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Oracle Team USA wants to stage the next America's Cup regatta in San Francisco in August 2017 in catamarans smaller than the one they sailed to victory last summer, team CEO Russell Coutts told Reuters on Monday.

Oracle Corp CEO Larry Ellison's team notched eight successive wins over Team New Zealand in September, coming from behind to take the 34th America's Cup in one of the sport's most remarkable comebacks.

The event's victor wins the right to choose the venue. Coutts wants to return the regatta to the Northern California city's waterfront, and hopes to convince civic leaders to agree to host the event a second time.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee on Monday sent a letter to Coutts opening negotiations. The city and Oracle have a number of details to sort out and the board of supervisors must approve any deal.

Numerous hurdles remain before Ellison can reach an agreement with the city, including convincing critics of the economic benefits for the city, which turned out less than initially estimated.

Some supervisors criticized the last arrangement between the city and Ellison as being too generous to the event organizers.

But "the 34th America's Cup generated hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity for San Francisco, created thousands of jobs and showcased our spectacular waterfront, the beauty of San Francisco Bay and the sport of sailing to millions of spectators around the world," Lee wrote in his letter.

Yet controversy dogged this year's event. Critics questioned the safety of the faster, high-tech 72-foot catamarans sailed in the last America's Cup, particularly after a sailor died in a tragic accident.

"Some people within the city are saying why should we support a race for a billionaire like Larry Ellison," Coutts said. "Most people have recognized that it was more about highly skilled, young athletes than it was about billionaires."

San Francisco and Ellison hope to finalize an agreement by March 1, Lee said in his letter.

CHANGES

Coutts expects the next series of races for the world's oldest sporting trophy to be sailed in twin-hulled yachts between 60 and 65 feet long (18 and 20 meter), with hydrofoils to lift the hulls out of the water onto carbon-fiber blades.

"It will be a foiling catamaran for sure," Coutts said in a telephone interview.

Coutts said the Australian challenger of record, led by winemakers Bob and Sandy Oatley, and Oracle have hired an entity to design the rules for the next Cup. To reduce costs, he said they are considering shrinking the number of crew members from 11 to eight.

They also are considering re-imposing a nationality rule, Coutts said. Just one member of this year's winning American team hailed from the United States.

The races leading up to the final series last summer lasted months. Next time, Coutts said, he plans to consolidate the races into just one month in August 2017.

That month was the best time to stage the event in San Francisco's cruise ship terminal because cruise ships rarely dock in San Francisco in August, Coutts said.

(Reporting by Ronnie Cohen; Editing by Bill Trott)

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