Saturday, May 11, 2013

Where to now for the America's Cup?

Tragedy hit the America's Cup in San Diego yesterday when Swedish yacht Artemis capsized in a swell, and tactician Andrew Simpson was trapped underneath the boat and drowned. 

Now, the whole America's Cup event later in the year is under a cloud; the Herald reports:

Concerns about the safety of the high-tech America's Cup catamarans have increased after a training accident yesterday involving Swedish team Artemis that killed British sailor Andrew Simpson.
The two-time Olympic medallist died after he was trapped under the platform when the giant 22m catamaran flipped in San Francisco Bay.
Veteran Kiwi America's Cup campaigner Craig Monk was also injured and is believed to have been taken to hospital for treatment to cuts on his hands. The Swedish team did not respond to inquiries on Monk's welfare.
The tragedy has cast a shadow over the 34th America's Cup, an event American media say is cursed, having already been marred by lack of entrants, the enormous cost of competing and the complex boat design.
Once the sailing community overcomes its shock and grief, serious questions will be asked about the safety of the class and the future. of this year's regatta.
Artemis are the second team to capsize in San Francisco. Cup defender Oracle flipped end-over-end last year.
Remarkably, no crew were injured but the boat was extensively damaged, losing the team four months in development time.
Commentators have expressed reservations over the risks associated with the big yachts, on which crews are equipped with crash helmets, body armour, oxygen tanks and knives.
Sailing commentator Peter Lester believes that as teams push the boundaries in design and technology, the risks have got out of hand.
"You've got to go back and ask questions over the whole concept of the boat - the size, the horsepower, the technology of the boat, the ability to sail the boat safely given what it is," he said..
"When you have a difficult piece of hardware, it takes people time to learn how to sail it properly and safely and optimise it. And time is something these teams have not had."
The questions remain unanswered as the Cup community closes ranks to mourn loss of a well-liked and highly regarded sailor.

The AC72 catamarans are cutting edge in design and technology. Under full power, they are spectacular to watch. But they are also designed to run right on the limit. Artemis discovered yesterday just how easy it is to go beyond the limit.

The sight of sailors in body armour and crash helmets, almost like moto-x riders is a little bizarre to us. Our only experiences of sailing have been somewhat more sedate affairs. But the AC72's can hit well over 70km/h in the right conditions, which is fair flying in a sailboat.

The next few days will be pivotal as to the future of this year's America's Cup event. There have already been two spectacular capsizes in San Francisco, and the latest one has had tragic human consequences. Boats can be rebuild, but humans are a long time dead.

We would be most interested to here what our more nautical commenters make of this all, especially Quintin Hogg who is no stranger to messing about in boats. In the meantime our thoughts are with the family of Andrew "Bart" Simpson, and his Artemis team-mates. 


Quintin Hogg said...

The '72s scare the shit out of me. And sailing is where I have really pushed the boundaries in terms of risk.
It was not a case of if but when some-one would be killed.
I am sad not surprised. Con va dios Bart.

Ciaron said...

The IACC's were no picnic either; several sets of lost or damaged fingers (Tag Heuer & America one at least, I think) and it was a miracle no one was lost or injured when One Australia went down. And lastly, the Spannish team member who lost his life in 1999, the story we heard was that he was a mastman who was struck by a turning block which ripped out of the deck.