Sailors know the risks and rewards that come with these new space-age America’s Cup boats that speed like race cars across the waves.
Still, the death of British Olympic champion Andrew “Bart” Simpson during a training session on San Francisco Bay gives fresh urgency as they chase the oldest trophy in international sports this summer.
How safe are the boats?
Authorities are hoping they’ll have a good answer once they complete an investigation into why the 72-foot catamaran sailed by Artemis Racing of Sweden nose-dived and capsized Thursday after completing a difficult maneuver. Simpson, 36, was submerged under the 7-ton boat for more than 10 minutes. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, and he was pronounced dead a short time later.
It wasn’t the first accident involving the high-performance catamarans, which were introduced as one of many changes to make the stodgy old sport of sailing more appealing to mainstream sports fans after Oracle Team USA, owned by software tycoon Larry Ellison, won the Cup in 2010 with a giant trimaran.
Since the new champions always get to rewrite the rules, Ellison and his world-class sailors tossed out the plodding sloops that previously had been sailed in the America’s Cup in favor of the fast catamarans.
Sailing on San Francisco Bay rather than miles out on the ocean, Oracle envisioned the 72-foot cats wowing both spectators lining the shore and TV viewers alike by skimming across the top of the waves.
The boats have everything to capture the attention of landlubbers — sleek, twin hulls; a 131-foot sail that looks and acts like a jetliner’s wing, improving speed and stability; and, in a recent development, carbon-fiber hydrofoils that lift the hulls out of the water and make them go even faster.
When the boats hook into a breeze, the ride is exhilarating. Make the slightest mistake or push the boat too hard and it can all go wrong.
America’s Cup organizers said Friday it was unclear what impact the fatality might have on the series of races scheduled to begin on July 6.
“Nothing is off the table,” said Stephen Barclay, chief executive of the America’s Cup Event Authority. “We need to know what happened.”