Fatal America's Cup sailing accident on Bay raises safety questions

May 10, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
America's Cup officials say a catamaran that capsized in San Francisco Bay, killing a sailor, nosedived during a difficult maneuver and broke into many pieces.

The crash of the Artemis 72 has rocked the America's Cup competitors and the race management. Friday, they were in full protect mode, shielding the Artemis team. The regatta director and the America's Cup chairman took questions, but had few answers.

It was the final day of trials for the Artemis team's first 72 footer known as Big Red. The boat was turning downwind in what's termed a bare away maneuver when the boat suffered a catastrophic failure.

Simpson, the strategist of for Artemis Racing was pinned under the boat and underwater for as much as 10 minutes before he was pulled from the wreckage. He was carrying an oxygen bottle, but when divers found him he was unconscious and could not be revived.

"It appears Bart was trapped under some of the solid sections of the yacht, out of view, out of sight to the myriad of people on board trying to locate him, including proper divers with apparatus," America's Cup Regatta Director Iain Murray said.

The crewmember steering the yacht was Australian Nathan Outteridge. His father in Australia said he spoke with his son yesterday and he reported a structural failure of the forward cross beam.

Murray and America's Cup Event Authority CEO Stephen Barclay are pushing aside speculation about a structural collapse and waiting until next week before they question the Artemis crew.

"That's why Iain and I are here, to field the questions and to try and give the team, the Artemis Racing team, space and time," Barclay said.

Officials said winds were blowing between 15 and 20 knots (17 to 23 mph) when the boat capsized. The National Weather Service later issued a small-craft advisory, warning inexperienced mariners to stay off the bay and indicating winds of between 21 knots and 33 knots.

The America's Cup promised San Francisco the most exciting race of all time, but have the ultra-big, ultra-fast catamarans become too fast, too dangerous? Some critics say yes.

"Crashes are cool in some sports; I'm not sure that's what the America's Cup is about," sailing racer and marketer Scott MacLeod said.

MacLeod not only races professionally, he also markets the sport. Three years ago, he warned that the new style boats are too fragile, too costly, and at this point, still too unknown.

"Obviously they wanted fast, exciting boats, but obviously they have pushed it a little too far," MacLeod said.

Since the America's Cup series began in 1851, there was no death of a competitor until 1991when a Spanish crewman died when he was hit in the head by a piece of gear.

But this wasn't the first America's Cup boat to capsize on the hard-blowing San Francisco Bay. Oracle Team USA's $10 million boat capsized in 25-knot winds in October, and strong tides swept it four miles past the Golden Gate Bridge. No one was injured, but the rough waters destroyed the 131-foot wing sail, and the boat was sidelined until a new sail shipped from New Zealand was installed in February.

The only other team with a 72 on the water is Oracle. Out of respect for the Artemis team, Oracle will not be sailing their boat until next week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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