Yachting: Capsize catastrophe for Oracle

By Dana Johannsen

Skipper distraught and facing big repair bill, but says team will bounce back to win America's Cup.

The catamaran pitch-poled in San Francisco Bay, digging both bows and the wingsail into the water. Photo / TEAM ORACLE
The catamaran pitch-poled in San Francisco Bay, digging both bows and the wingsail into the water. Photo / TEAM ORACLE

Oracle's already fraught AC72 testing programme suffered a catastrophic set-back yesterday when the America's Cup defenders capsized during a training run in San Francisco Bay.

On just their eighth day of sailing the boat, Oracle's new USA-17 pitch-poled spectacularly, leaving both bows and the wingsail dug in to the water.

Remarkably, none of the crew was injured in the accident, but the same cannot be said of Oracle's high-tech racing machine.

The top of the wing snapped off on impact, and with the boat on its side the sea conditions quickly inflicted further damage, decimating what remained of the wing.

By nightfall Russell Coutts' crew still hadn't managed to salvage the vessel, with the strong current dragging the remnants under the Golden Gate Bridge and out to sea.

Late last night the team were still working to secure the catamaran platform and bring it back to base.

The full extent of the damage is still unclear, but it is likely Oracle will face a repair bill in the millions - if their catamaran is indeed salvageable.

But the biggest cost to the team is the lost development time on the water.

It is expected to take months rather than weeks to repair the damage, and the January 31 deadline for which the testing window closes is looming fast.

Distraught skipper Jimmy Spithill said he was gutted by yesterday's accident, but maintained the team will bounce back.

"There's no question this is a setback. This will be a big test for out team," he said. "But I've seen those guys in a similar situation in the past campaign before we won the America's Cup. A strong team will bounce back from it. This won't stop us from winning the America's Cup."

The accident at around 3pm local time yesterday in fresh conditions, with building winds whipping up waves against one of the strongest ebb currents of the year.

Oracle tactician Tom Slingsby said the team struck trouble when they turned downwind and the boat began to nosedive.

"We started [to] bear away, and as the boat accelerated it pitch-poled. We didn't know what was going to happen with the new boat. When the nose went down, the wing hit and a few guys went in the water.

"We were unsure if the wing would snap so we all climbed off the boat. Luckily everyone is accounted and no one was hurt."

Launched behind schedule in late August, Oracle encountered difficulties with their AC72 from the outset after breaking the daggerboards on the first day of testing.

The lengthy and expensive repair job is still on-going, but in the meantime, they were able to fashion some daggerboards from their 90-foot trimaran in which they won the America's Cup in 2010.

That allowed them to get back on to the water earlier this month, while their competitors were in town for the World Series regatta, sailed in AC45s.

Under the protocol governing next year's America's Cup, teams cannot launch a second boat until after February 1 next year.

Oracle have indicated they are looking at a March launch date for their second boat.

Team New Zealand and Oracle are the only teams to have launched their AC72s to date.

Artemis are undergoing structural testing on their boat and Luna Rossa will launch their AC72 in Auckland next week.

- NZ Herald

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