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Yachting: Silence over 'death traps'

Competing for the America's Cup in AC72 catamarans is in doubt after the Artemis Racing boat capsized, killing Olympic gold medallist Andrew Simpson. Photo / AP
Competing for the America's Cup in AC72 catamarans is in doubt after the Artemis Racing boat capsized, killing Olympic gold medallist Andrew Simpson. Photo / AP

"I hope like hell that whoever survives this thing and wins it changes the boat class to anything safer than these God-forsaken death traps."

That statement from a crew member - on the condition of anonymity for himself and the team - summed up the general reaction to the death of 36-year-old Artemis sailor Andrew Simpson when the hulls of his America's Cup team's training yacht snapped in relatively mild wind conditions on San Francisco Bay.

More than 20 minutes' CPR could not bring him back.

New Zealand 1992 Olympic finn class bronze medallist Craig Monk was also on board. His injuries were minor but he could not be contacted.

A cone of silence has descended on all teams as they contemplate how to react to one of the biggest crises faced by the event in its 162-year history.

The America's Cup regatta director Iain Murray will lead a review into the events surrounding the capsize.

He has scheduled a formal meeting with all four competing teams in San Francisco on Tuesday.

Murray says they need to establish an open flow of information to ensure the review meets its goals and puts them in a position to recommend changes, if necessary.

As the opening quote attests, the catamarans are in danger of being shelved. It prompted one sailor to say: "I hope after all of this, the only place people see these yachts are in museums and pictures."

The vision of Oracle syndicate chief executive Sir Russell Coutts is under threat. Already there is talk the challenger series and the America's Cup might be contested in scaled down AC45s rather than the AC72s. The need for crew to have oxygen tanks, helmets and knives to survive a boat implosion in water described as a "six-degree chill", hardly encapsulates the spirit of sailing.

"Those boats [the AC72s] are so finely tuned to factors like who can build the lightest mast. Something was always likely to be compromised in design," another team member noted.

Lawyers are understood to be circling. A source with a team in San Francisco says the Artemis designers might be the first to need legal counsel: "Their arses will be on the line. I don't know how they can avoid it the way the boat just crumpled."

If the boats, format and racing parameters - including allowable wind - change, syndicates might consider heading to the courts to claim a breach of their current America's Cup contracts.

It brings to mind a repeat of Sir Michael Fay's legal manoeuvres when the KZ1 monohull challenged Dennis Conner's Stars and Stripes catamaran 25 years ago off San Diego.

A meeting involving the organisers and all teams is scheduled for Wednesday (Thursday NZT) where more will be revealed on how the event progresses. The coastguard have impounded the boat for now. The police are still involved.

Last night there was also speculation Iain Percy, Simpson's gold and silver medal crewmate in the Star class at the last two Olympics, might return to Britain to grieve.

Percy, the Artemis sailing director, had originally encouraged Simpson, the best man at his wedding, to take up a contract. The BBC reported they had been friends since the age of seven, even playing with Lego together when unable to sail.

- Herald on Sunday

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