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Calmer America's Cup waters emerge as challengers say they'll support Oracle's venue choice

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SAN DIEGO — Like a tide rushing into a harbor, America's Cup challengers are now saying they will support whichever venue is chosen by defending champion Oracle Team USA for the 2017 regatta.

That was among six points made in a joint release following a meeting of four European syndicates and Oracle Team USA in London on Tuesday.

America's Cup boss Russell Coutts has narrowed the venue choices to Bermuda and San Diego, with a decision to be made by fall.

Two weeks earlier, at a meeting in Los Angeles, challengers said it was a "universal concern" that Bermuda "is not a great venue." There wasn't a rousing endorsement for San Diego, either, even though the America's Cup would be sailed on the bay rather than miles out to sea as it was when the Southern California port hosted sailing's biggest regatta in 1988, 1992 and 1995.

What changed?

The challengers "received good briefings on the two venues including wind speeds, which was positive," British Olympic star Ben Ainslie said in an email to The Associated Press.

The four-time Olympic gold medalist is leading Ben Ainslie Racing, Britain's latest attempt to win back the trophy it lost to the schooner America in 1851.

The other teams at the meeting were Sweden's Artemis Racing, Italy's Luna Rossa Challenge and Team France.

Coutts, who is both CEO of Oracle Team USA and director of the America's Cup Event Authority, told Emirates Team New Zealand to skip the meeting, feeling the Kiwis weren't willing to work within the published protocol. Oracle Team USA retained the Auld Mug last September by beating Team New Zealand in one of the biggest comebacks in sports.

Team New Zealand, the strongest of the challengers, doesn't favor Bermuda as the venue for the challenger semifinals and finals, and America's Cup match. The Kiwis and other syndicates are concerned that some corporate sponsors will back out if the Cup is sailed in Bermuda, a British territory some 640 miles off North Carolina.

Team New Zealand, like the other challengers, wanted the regatta to return to San Francisco. But Coutts dismissed San Francisco from the venue-selection process earlier this summer because it wasn't offering the same terms as last year, including free rent for piers as well as police, fire and other services.

Alameda mayor Marie Gilmore sent Coutts a letter last week inviting him to consider her city, located across the bay from San Francisco. She told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the city is awaiting a reply.

The Kiwis are still expected to enter by the Aug. 8 deadline. The entry fee isn't cheap — $2 million, payable in two installments, plus a $1 million performance bond.

The London meeting was called after a week's worth of bad publicity following the withdrawal of Australia's Hamilton Island Yacht Club as Challenger of Record on July 18. The Aussies' withdrawal was the first public sign of dissatisfaction among challengers regarding the rules, location and the staggering cost of the 2017 regatta.

In an email to the AP, Coutts said Oracle Team USA "explained some of the attributes of each venue and showed them the proposed courses, team base and event village sites as well as the weather recordings. They seemed pleasantly surprised."

The syndicates also agreed Tuesday to try to reduce costs for this America's Cup and future regattas; to have each team plan to host an America's Cup World Series event in either their own country or a country of their choice; and to commit, if they won the America's Cup in 2017, to continue with the America's Cup World Series.

They also agreed to have regular meetings to maximize the potential of this America's Cup and future editions, and to agree on a date and event structure for the following America's Cup.

Ainslie said syndicates talked about reducing costs "on a number of fronts with good intent and this is a work in progress."


Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson

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