German team withdraws after America’s Cup tragedy

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The death of Artemis crewmember Andrew “Bart” Simpson last Thursday after a catastrophic crash of his America’s Cup team’s AC72 catamaran on San Francisco Bay is reverberating around the world.

In the wake of the accident, Sailing Team Germany announced the withdrawal of its squad that had qualified for the Youth America’s Cup, which is scheduled to be sailed Sept. 1-4 on San Francisco Bay, prior to the America’s Cup finals. “We can’t and we won’t take responsibility for sending our young team over there. The death of one sailor is reason enough [to withdraw],” Sailing Team Germany founder Oliver Schwall said in a statement. “We also feel that our decision has to send an important message after this disaster. It’s time [for organizers] to start thinking.”

The Youth America’s Cup is contested on the smaller AC45 cats that also are sailed in the America’s Cup World Series, but even these smaller boats are racing machines that can be difficult to tame. Additionally, these young teams bring a lot less experience to the starting line than the professionals do. “Until the beginning of the Youth America’s Cup there should have been more training sessions, but those already were reduced to about 10 practice days on the water,” Schwall said. “To us, that’s simply insufficient for a thorough preparation.”

The German Youth America’s Cup team finished on top of its qualifying group last February on San Francisco Bay. Talks with potential partners and sponsors about supporting the campaign on sailing’s biggest stage were said to be in high gear, but now the young German sailors’ dreams of competing at the America’s Cup have been dashed.

“It’s a giant tragedy that a sailor lost his life. We all are shocked,” skipper Philipp Buhl said. “We believe the risks sailing the smaller AC45s are considerably smaller, but we accept this decision.” Instead of competing in the Youth America’s Cup, Buhl will defend his title at the European Laser Championship.

Schwall denies allegations that the true reason for Sailing Team Germany’s withdrawal is not a moral concern, but a shortage of funds. “That’s absolute nonsense. The whole campaign was clearly and completely funded,” he said. “Accusations of this kind are inappropriate and without merit.”

Dieter Loibner, who compiled and translated this report, is sailing editor for Trade Only’s sister magazine Soundings.


8 comments on “German team withdraws after America’s Cup tragedy

  1. alessandro nevierov

    Well done Schwall,
    the safety of the athletes first, it is crazy to manage AC45s without adeguate training and any crash or fault potentially can cause injuries to crews onboard the speed machines.
    It is strange that this races seems to be out of any maritime safety rule, considering that the boats aren’t 14′ dinghies.
    Bad examples both for boatbuilders and young sailors

  2. David Beck

    Risk is inherent in any high performance sport.

    Young people take risks, it is in their nature, and it is what has propelled the species throughout it’s evolution.

    While it may be understandable to consider pulling a team from a competition in the immediate aftermath and shock of a death, to do so misses the point of the competition, and smacks of the nanny-culture-liability-risk averse nature of modern society. Frankly, European centered sponsors and teams (excepting the French) seem particularly subject to this kind of thinking.

    I feel particularly bad for the young, talented and no doubt willing members of Sailing Team Germany.

    Dave Beck

  3. Rick Dieterich

    I agree with David Beck. Of course Andrew’s death is tragic, but risk is part of any sport. NASCAR, Skiing, Mountain Climbing, NFL, NBA, MLB…etc, etc. Sailing is no exception. Albeit less risky than many other sports, I’m sure all the athletes involved understand the potential for disaster.

    Take accountability for your risk or don’t do it. I’m tired of the blame game. If the German’s feel the risk is too great, that’s their call. Bad call Oliver (Schwall), if you ask me.

    “I feel particularly bad for the young, talented and no doubt willing members of Sailing Team Germany. “

  4. alessandro nevierov

    to mmany words mr. Beck, and no any facts. Simpson’s death is only the last of accidents occurred, both on AC45 and AC72 and I was wondered about the fact that boats crashed, capsized at 25 more knots and very poor safety measures were adopted (air bottles? after a fly of 50′ on a carbon mast, strong as a concrete beam falling at a midsize car speed? totally OUT)
    Give some exciting 18′ to that skilled young sailors and organize the races in 30knots of wind. That will be real competition or, better use the more appropriate olimpic classes and compete with all the rest of world.
    Simpson was well known in the olimpic classes world for his talent as Finn helmsman and Star crew and we are very sad that his brilliant life is ended so fast.
    To many words mr. Beck and probably to poor sailing experience

  5. roninxian

    Does this mean the Germans don’t feel they train their young sailors well enough? Blaming one accident to dash the hopes of young people is insane. The blame is not with the sailors, young or professional, here, it is blame on the German body that undertrains their young sailors.
    Maybe Germany needs to ban children on buses. Buses can get into accidents and people can die.

  6. Manuel Sec

    Mr. Beck is missing the point: I agree risk is part of any sport, true. But in any sport risk is seriously considered, well-known, carefully analysed and, after that, appropriate safety measures are created. NOT in this America’s Cup! This is the point: proper management of risk, not risk itself.
    Leaving a person trapped underwater for 15 long minutes could have been avoided with a rescue diving team ready on the race field for example.
    Organizers are doing almost nothing compared to the risks of these boats.

  7. Alex Wilson

    Apparently the question of training is related to training and familiarization specifically sailing the AC45 boats on the San Francisco Bay. Surely everyone involved has a great deal of experience sailing in general.

  8. cagelizer

    There is a new twist in this. Obviously the decision is/was not in sync with at least 7 team members. There is a short interview with Philipp Buhl in the FAZ (very big german newspaper). Just my poor translation:”… We look different to the risk. From a rational point of view, the evaluation of Sailing Team Germany is wrong.” He states further they try to continue the race as team “All in Racing” – of course without the funding from the sailing officials. So if anyone has a 100k grande to share…

    This is not the first, where some sport officials jeopardize the work of there athletes. Maybe its a way for them to save some money. I’m not sure if they ever believed in there team. The team qualified and then the big guys realized they had to put money on the table…. After all sailing is not the big cash cow in sports in Germany.

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