America’s Cup practice suspended after accident

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Investigators asked America’s Cup teams on Friday to temporarily suspend practice on San Francisco Bay following a deadly accident last week.

At the same time, the head of the Italian sailing team in the America’s Cup called on Friday for lowering limits on wind speeds and other safety measures to make the regatta less dangerous, according to The (U.K.) Guardian.

Prada fashion house co-founder Patrizio Bertelli said that if the other three participants can’t agree on ways to improve safety, his team, Luna Rossa Challenge, could withdraw from the international competition, which is set to get under way in July in San Francisco Bay.

Organizers have said the races will go ahead despite growing public concerns about safety after a British champion sailor was killed when one of the sleek, ultra-fast AC72 catamarans built for the competition capsized and broke apart last week.

They have left open the possibility of changes to the rules of the race, according to Reuters, brought to San Francisco by Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, whose team won the trophy in 2010 in Valencia, Spain.

After its first meeting on Thursday, a committee formed by organizers to review Swedish challenger Artemis Racing’s fatal accident asked the teams to suspend sailing both the 72-foot America’s Cup catamarans and the smaller AC45s until the middle of this week.

Organizers have said they hoped to have recommendations from the committee within about two weeks. Among other factors, investigators will look at the structure of Artemis’ Big Red yacht, which regatta director Iain Murray has said differed significantly from the catamarans of other competitors.

Teams in the America’s Cup are required to stay within rules governing the design of their yachts, but they also have leeway to customize their vessels with hydrofoils and other technology.

The death of Artemis’ Andrew Simpson, a two-time Olympic medalist, marked the second time that an expert crew on one of the high-tech yachts, estimated to cost about $8 million each, lost control and flipped its boat in the heavy winds of San Francisco Bay.

Simpson was trapped underwater after the Artemis catamaran turned upside down and broke apart while training. Winds had been blowing at 18 to 20 knots, or about 23 to 25 miles an hour, which race organizers described as typical for the bay.

On Thursday, crewmates from Artemis and the three other teams slated to vie for the trophy threw wreaths into the bay where he was killed.

The America’s Cup rules allow the winner of the most recent event to choose the venue and regulations for the next challenge, a series of races that begin in July and go into September.

Hoping to attract wider interest in the sport, Ellison’s Oracle Team USA created specifications that led to ultra-lightweight, two-hulled vessels with hard “wing” sails and hydrofoils that can lift most of the boat out of the water to reach speeds close to 50 mph (80 kph).

But after the Artemis accident and an incident in October when Oracle’s catamaran capsized and was swept out to sea, criticism has grown that the boats could be too hard to maneuver in San Francisco’s Bay’s heavy winds and rip currents.

Andy Turpin, managing editor of Latitude 38, a Bay area sailing magazine that had asked readers to share their thoughts about the accident, told Reuters that about 80 percent of his readers also want the regatta to be sailed in the smaller boats.

“One of our readers made the analogy to the early days of Formula One racing. The biggest criticism is that they haven’t been on the water long enough,” Turpin told Reuters.

Click here for the full Guardian report.

Click here for the Reuters report.

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Comments

2 comments on “America’s Cup practice suspended after accident

  1. amberjack

    A fair amount of NASCAR fans tune in just to watch the crashes. Is this what the America’s Cup is turning into? RIP Andrew Simpson.

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