Death fuels doubts about safety of high tech America's Cup boats

By Dana Johannsen

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. Photo / Greg Bowker
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. Photo / Greg Bowker

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.

Simpson, the team's strategist, won gold in the Star class at the Beijing Olympics and silver in London last year with Iain Percy, who is also involved with Artemis and was on board yesterday.

A sombre Artemis chief executive, Paul Cayard, gave few details when he attended a large media gathering. He spoke for one minute and declined to answer questions.

"We have had a tragic day out on the bay today," he said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with Andrew Simpson's family, his wife and kids and also with the rest of his teammates.

"It's a shocking experience to go through and we have a lot to deal with in the next few days ... The boat itself is under control but it's certainly not the first of our concerns. We are focused on the people."

It is not known if Artemis - one of three challengers in the Cup - will be able to recover from the emotional, psychological, financial and operational blow to take the startline in July.

"This will really handicap them," said Lester. "Not just for the obvious reason that they've lost that boat, but also in terms of morale."

The chief executive of the America's Cup Event Authority, Stephen Barclay, said officials were investigating the accident. He said it was not clear what effect the death would have on the Cup races, which will run from July to September.

He added it was too soon to answer questions about the safety of the high-tech boats.

- NZ Herald

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