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German team withdraws after America’s Cup tragedy

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.

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