(Bloomberg) — Organizers of the America’s Cup will work with the U.S. Coast Guard to investigate the accident that killed two-time Olympic sailing medalist Andrew Simpson yesterday during the Swedish team Artemis Racing’s practice on San Francisco Bay.
Chief Executive Officer Stephen Barclay said the America’s Cup Event Authority will work with the Coast Guard on an inquiry to determine if changes need to be made to the 34th edition of the 161-year-old regatta. Artemis’s boat nose-dived and crashed while attempting a difficult maneuver.
“Only after the review’s done will we know what truly happened and then we’ll decide if any action needs to be taken,” Barclay said in a telephone interview.
The crash was the second involving the new 72-foot catamarans being used in the Cup, which are some of fastest sailboats ever built, powered by 131-foot carbon wing sails and capable of skimming above the water on hydrofoils at speeds exceeding 40 knots. Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team USA, the defending champions, destroyed a wing during a training accident in October.
Ellison, chief executive of Redwood City, California-based Oracle Corp., won the right to host this year’s America’s Cup after defeating a catamaran sailed by Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli’s Alinghi syndicate in a two-boat, best-of-three series off Valencia, Spain, using a 90-foot trimaran with a 223- foot wing sail. His organizers then remade the Cup for television audiences, using the high-speed, twin-hulled boats to replace slower, safer monohulls.
Artemis, the first of three teams to challenge for the Cup, will also investigate the accident, according to a statement from Torbjorn Tornqvist, the team’s chairman. Artemis represents the Royal Swedish Yacht Club.
Tornqvist, co-founder of the Geneva-based oil trading company Gunvor Group Ltd., said in an e-mailed statement that Simpson was a key player and “binding force” on the team.
‘Right now the primary focus of Artemis Racing is on the well-being of our team members and their families, and the America’s Cup competition will remain second to that,’’ Tornqvist said. “Artemis Racing will conduct a thorough analysis and review of this accident and will be looking at how the risks inherent to such competitive sailing can be limited in the future for the safety of the team and all competitors in the sailing community.”
The catamarans use two widely spaced hulls to replace the lead ballast used to balance conventional sailboats. Their light weight and reduced friction makes them substantially faster than boats used in previous editions of the Cup, though they can nosedive and flip. Sailors wear crash helmets and carry oxygen bottles and other safety gear.
Boats capsized regularly at test events held around the world in 45-foot catamarans. John Rousmaniere, America’s Cup historian, said the new boats are testing the limits of technology, even more than the 45-footers.
“These are the Indy cars of sailing, where handling at high speeds is so tricky,” he said in a telephone interview. “They ventured into new territory here on fairly short notice when they went to the 72s.”
Artemis was practicing with the Oracle team in flat water and gusty conditions of 15 to 20 knots when the sailors attempted to turn away from the wind, “one of the more difficult maneuvers in sailing any fast boat,” Ian Murray, regatta director, said in a press conference. During the turn, the boat nosedived and broke up.
Simpson, 36, died after he was trapped beneath a section of the capsized yacht, out of sight from other vessels and divers searching for him, Murray said.
“Capsizing has been a part of these boats,” Murray said. “All of the crew had been trained under water. All carried oxygen and had been trained for the worst.”
Mindy Talmadge, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Fire Department, said in a telephone interview that the Oracle — which practices with Artemis — notified authorities about 1 p.m. yesterday that a boat had capsized “and one person had been underwater for about 10 minutes.”
Talmadge said CPR was performed on Simpson on a rescue boat and at the St. Francis Yacht Club, where the sailor was pronounced dead.
Simpson won a gold medal racing in the Star class at the 2008 Olympics as crew for Iain Percy, now Artemis’s sailing team director. The pair earned a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics. A veteran of two previous Cup campaigns, Simpson joined Artemis in February to provide weather and tactical support.
“It’s a shocking experience to go through and we have a lot to deal with in the next few days in terms of assuring everyone’s well-being,” Paul Cayard, the team’s chief executive, said during a press conference. “The boat’s under control but that’s not the first of our concerns. We’re focused on the people.”
– Aaron Kuriloff, Copyright 2013 Bloomberg.