I don't think sailing needs this type of spectator:
New Technology and Risks Enter a Venerable Event
By CHRISTOPHER CLAREY
Published: May 10, 2013
On a sun-kissed afternoon in the Bay Area last week, Larry Olson, a 39-year-old from San Francisco, backed his car into a parking space next to Marina Green, flipped up the hatch to create a viewing platform and watched with his young children as Artemis Racing’s America’s Cup catamaran sped by in the stiff breeze on San Francisco Bay.
“My daughter’s preschool is near here, so we always come and sit and watch them practice,” Olson said. “These are amazing boats, and we’re kind of hoping they’ll flip one. It happened once before. It’s kind of like watching a Nascar race.”
This is a new era in the America’s Cup, with perhaps a new, larger audience. No one ever pulled up a chair with the realistic expectation that a 12-meter yacht might capsize.
But there is a dark side to the novelty: true and persistent danger. The sailors, even weathered veterans, have been genuinely on edge even as they embrace the new thrill of the new-age boats. And on Thursday the danger turned fatal in San Francisco Bay when Artemis’s AC72 capsized while bearing away, or turning from the wind, during a training exercise.
One of Britain’s leading sailors, the Olympic gold medalist Andrew Simpson, died after being trapped under the inverted catamaran, Cup officials said. The craft had broken into pieces, its huge wing sail lying flat on the water.
The question is whether the America’s Cup, first contested in 1851, has gone too far in its high-technology hunt for modern-day relevance and market share.
“We know this is a risky boat, what happened to Artemis today could happen to us in the future,” said Max Sirena, the skipper of the Italian challenger Luna Rossa.
Keith Mills, former owner of a British team that abandoned plans to participate in this Cup, told The Daily Telegraph on Friday that safety was a factor in his decision.
“Seeing what those boats were capable of, speeds of up to 40 knots, frightened the life out of me,” he told The Telegraph. “The class rules looked like they were dangerous boats to sail. At 40 knots, the control is minimal. Hit a big wave and that is it.”
On Friday, while members of the Artemis Team grieved in private and other teams took a respectful break from training, the fallout was still visible as Iain Murray, the craggy-faced veteran sailor and regatta director for the 34th America’s Cup, fought to maintain his composure as he commented on Simpson’s death.
“Let me start by saying that Andrew was a very good friend,” Murray said, his voice breaking, at a news conference. “He has been one of those larger-than-life figures in our sport. It’s hard to believe he’s gone.
“It’s fair to say Andrew was doing what he loved. It was his passion, and Andrew was used to doing everything in life at the fullest and to the highest level he could. This will not lessen the tragedy that has passed, and of course we need to look at what has happened and understand the consequences.”
While the San Francisco Police Department conducts an inquiry into the fatal accident, Murray, a 55-year-old Australian, will lead the America’s Cup internal investigation with support from the United States Coast Guard.
Though a bear-away move is tricky, Murray will try to determine what caused the catamaran to flip on what was apparently smooth water in relatively typical weather conditions for San Francisco Bay. He will also try to determine why Simpson was not located and recovered in time despite extensive safety precautions — on and off board the AC72 — that included scuba divers and support staff from both Artemis and Oracle Team USA, the America’s Cup defenders who were training nearby.
“What went wrong yesterday was we lost the person,” Murray said. “And that’s what we need to find out: how you lose a person in a small boat with a lot of people looking.”
Murray also will try to determine if these new and spectacular multihulls, capable of speeds exceeding 40 knots, are safe and stable enough in their existing form to allow the America’s Cup preliminaries to go ahead as planned on July 5 with the challenger series known as the Vuitton Cup.
Stephen Barclay, chief executive officer of the America’s Cup event authority, did not rule out significant changes, even cancellation.
“I have every expectation we will host a spectacular event here this summer,” Barclay said. “But I’m not going to prejudge it. Iain will conduct his review, and we will see the outcome and recommendations of that.”
Last Oct. 16, an AC72 owned by Oracle Team USA, the defender of the America’s Cup, capsized during training in San Francisco Bay and was extensively damage, although the crew escaped with only minor injuries.
Lisa Ramsperger, a spokeswoman for Oracle Team USA, said the team had increased its safety training and revised its safety and recovery plan. Its sailors wear portable oxygen supplies, meant to be used if they are trapped underwater, and Murray indicated that members of the Artemis crew on Thursday, including Simpson, had similar equipment.
If true, something could have kept Simpson from getting access to that oxygen during the approximately 10 minutes that officials say he was trapped before rescue and medical crews were able to begin performing cardio pulmonary resuscitation on him, both on chase boats and on the dock of the St. Francis Yacht Club.
“It appears Bart was trapped under some of the solid sections of the yacht, out of view and out of sight to the myriad of people on board trying to locate him, including proper divers with apparatus,” Murray said, using Simpson’s nickname. “All the crews in these boats had been trained in underwater; they all carried oxygen and were meant to be prepared for the worse.”
The British Olympian Iain Percy, the sailing team director and tactician for Artemis, was on board when the accident occurred. He and Simpson won a gold medal together in the Star class at the 2008 Olympics and a silver at the 2012 Games. Percy was one of the key reasons Simpson decided to join Artemis in February.
The psychological impact of Simpson’s death could be far-reaching for Artemis. Murray said that Nathan Outteridge was steering the boat during Thursday’s accident. Outteridge has been expected to be the main helmsman for Artemis in San Francisco.
Barclay said he had had no indication that Artemis intended to withdraw from the Cup. The team is awaiting delivery of its second AC72 next month: a yacht that has been redesigned to compete with other teams that have already launched boats capable of foiling — sailing with both hulls out of the water with the lift generated by angled hydrofoils attached to daggerboards.
“We’re foiling on toothpicks essentially now,” Paul Cayard, the chief executive of Artemis, said before the accident.
Foiling on the downwind legs is considered essential to success in this year’s Cup, but Artemis’s first AC72, the one now in ruins, did not have that capacity. Murray said that did not necessarily make it a less risky proposition to sail.
Asked if two capsizings and one death meant this class of boats was too dangerous, he answered by reeling off a series of fatalities in sailing over the years.
“I was involved in the Sydney-Hobart Race when six people died,” he said of the 1998 race that was struck by a huge storm. “We have to live with these things, and we have to go forward in the best way we can.”
Citing the technological progress in the sport’s equipment, Murray said: “It’s what these guys want to do. They want to take sailing to the next level, and these boats provide that platform.”