Olympic gold medalist killed in America's Cup boat capsize

May 10, 2013 9:48:50 AM PDT
Training on the San Francisco Bay turned deadly for an America's Cup racing team from Sweden. The Artemis Racing catamaran capsized near Alcatraz Thursday afternoon, killing one team member. At 11 a.m. PT Friday, the CEO of America's Cup and the U.S. Coast Guard will hold a news conference regarding the deadly accident.

Andrew Simpson, a two-time Olympic medalist from the U.K., died in the accident. The highly experienced sailor was one of the 11-man crew aboard the Swedish team's AC72 catamaran that was sailing in winds blowing between 25 and 35 mph when it flipped over around 1 p.m.

According to a statement posted on the Artemis Racing website, Simpson became trapped underneath the boat. Officials believe he was trapped underwater for several minutes.

"That person was submerged for ten minutes and eventually rescued by crewmembers," said San Francisco Fire Department Chief Joanne Hayes-White.

According to Hayes-White, a San Francisco Police Department boat responded first. Simpson and another crewmember were brought ashore and taken to the St. Francis Yacht Club in full view of joggers and sightseers. Rescuers spent about 20 minutes performing CPR on the 36-year-old sailor before pronouncing him dead at 1:43 p.m. Officials say the other person's injuries were minor.

"The entire Artemis Racing team is devastated by what happened," said Artemis Racing CEO Paul Cayard in a statement posted online. "Our heartfelt condolences are with Andrew's wife and family."

"You know, it's a tragic day, this is someone who was well known and well regarded as an expert racer," Hayes-White said. "Everyone worked really hard to not have this outcome. These are very difficult things to report. Our hearts go out to the family of the member of the racing team."

All the other crewmembers on board were safely rescued and transferred to a support boat. They were sent to the Artemis Racing team's home base in Alameda.

Then we saw something that really speaks to the camaraderie of the competitors in the America's Cup. The Italian team pulled up with gear and people to rescue the stricken yacht.

The Artemis team has been the subject of a lot of speculation over its decision not to go with foiling daggerboards that actually lift the yacht holes out of the water when the boat hits high speeds. The New Zealand team, the Italian team, and the Oracle team, have all gone with these foiling daggerboards.

But Cayard said his decision not to go with the boards was that he believes the yacht would be more stable in the water. In a recent email he told reporters that it doesn't matter how fast you go if you can't get your boat to go around the course safely. That statement is taking a lot more color following the fatal accident.

This is the third time one of these boats has capsized.

Freedman: "Are you beginning to wonder how safe these boats are?"
Hayes-White: "You know, I think all of that will be looked at, in light of some recent incidents. I'm not a sailor, I know I wouldn't consider these extreme conditions. It's fairly windy out here today. I think anytime there's a sport of any kind there's risks involved."

They're risks that Stephan Sowash knows well. He's a captain on one of the race marker boats. Sowash says these accidents are no surprise, in a sport where part of the game means pushing a boat to its limits.

"Catamarans have an inherent problem, they're very stable until they're not," Sowash said. "As soon as you have a platform under you that is not able to lean with the wind, it has a point, and when you reach that point it's gone."

The wind range was very dicey even for a stable boat. And these catamarans are hugely overpowered with hard wing sails that are 130 feet tall. The Coast Guard says it is unsure what caused the boat to capsize.

Sowash told us the wind speeds were right on the limit of what makes it safe. It's also what makes these races so exciting. Another sailor approached us, comparing the America's Cup to Nascar, saying they're beginning to get very similar.

This isn't the first accident on the Bay during America's Cup training. Last October the Oracle sailing team flipped over while putting their 72-foot catamaran to the test. 13 crew members were on the boat and all of them were rescued safely.

But the $8 million custom boat suffered major damage and took month to repair. At the time, the crew said rough seas and strong winds capsized the catamaran.

Oracle issued a statement on its Facebook page. It reads, "Today is a sad day for all of us in the sailing community. Andrew Simpson was a great person, a terrific sailor, and a good friend to all of our team. Our thoughts are with his family and the entire Artemis team. He will be dearly missed."

Simpson won an Olympic silver medal in the London games last summer and a gold medal in Beijing in 2008. In addition to being an Artemis Racing crewmember, he also had a furniture design company.

The British sailor leaves behind a wife and toddler son.

The America's Cup race is scheduled to run from July through September.


Load Comments