Sailing - Port decision gives hope for land-based America's Cup spectators

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WELLINGTON (Reuters) - America's Cup defenders Team New Zealand are hoping that a Wednesday decision by Ports of Auckland will make it possible for two of their proposed five courses for next year's regatta to be reinstated.

Auckland's harbourmaster had restricted the use of the courses closest to the city's waterfront and the North Shore's eastern beaches, which would have enabled land-based spectators to watch the AC75 foiling monohulls.

An independent arbitration panel then ruled on an appeal from the challenging teams last month that the courses could not be used as they were not available for the entire regatta.

On Wednesday, however, Ports of Auckland said they had agreed to re-route shipping traffic away from the area on race days, allowing the courses to be used throughout the Jan-March regatta.

"Because cruise ships are no longer able to visit Auckland, we now believe we can successfully manage freight operations even with closures to the shipping channel for racing," Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson said in a statement.

Team New Zealand head Grant Dalton said he hoped the port company's decision would push the challengers to accept the use of the courses as at least one had refused to return to mediation aimed at resolving the issue.

The decision on what racecourse is used each day is the responsibility of the regatta director.

The three challengers from Italy, Britain and the United States race each other in January-February to win the right to face Team New Zealand for the America's Cup in March.

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Hugh Lawson)