Yesterday, five days after the tragic death of Artemis Racing sailor Andrew Simpson during an America’s Cup training session, event organizers assured the public via a press conference at Pier 27 that this summer’s Cup competition will go ahead as planned.
According to Regatta Director Iain Murray, earlier in the day representatives of all four teams (Oracle Team USA, Artemis Racing, Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Challenge) unanimously agreed to endorse a special committee that will review the breakup of the Artemis catamaran, and make safety recommendations for future training and racing. All four teams, said Murray, are in agreement that the races should proceed on the original schedule. The Louis Vuitton challenger series will begin July 4, and the America’s Cup finals will begin September 7.
Members of the Review Committee are: Chairman Iain Murray, Deputy Chair Sally Lindsay Honey, AC Race Management’s Principal Race Officer John Craig, US Sailing safety specialist Chuck Hawley, multihull designer Vincent Lauriot-Prévost (of France), and legal expert Jim Farmer QC (of New Zealand). In addition, marine casualty investigator Lt. Jon Lane will act as liaison on behalf of the Coast Guard.
Tom Ehman, Vice Commodore of the Golden Gate YC, which is the sponsoring club of the defending team, Oracle Team USA, shared the podium with Murray. Reacting to Monday’s announcement that the German team had abruptly pulled out of the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup (slated for September 1-4), Ehman clarified that the German Sailing Federation had withdrawn its support for the German RBYAC team, but that the team members themselves may still compete. If they ultimately elect not to, he said, several other teams are waiting in line to take their place. It should be noted that the German organization’s pull-out seemed largely symbolic, as the RBYAC will be raced aboard AC45s which have competed successfully dozens of times in a variety of conditions and have never suffered catastrophic damage or major crew injuries, even during numerous capsizes.
Despite the upbeat spin of Murray and Ehman’s comments, we find it extremely frustrating that six days after Simpson’s tragic death virtually no specific details about the incident have been released, leaving both the sailing and non-sailing public to speculate wildly about the integrity of the AC72 concept, and the safety of the men who sail aboard them.
Our invitation for readers to share their thoughts about the Artemis incident generated a wide range of strong opinions, some noting that tragic loss of life is a calculated risk of extreme sports such as this, and that the races should proceed nonetheless. Some said the event should simply be cancelled. The vast majority, however, voiced strong objections to the unproven nature of AC72s, and urged that the event be dialed back to use AC45s, which were, of course, a huge success here at last year’s America’s Cup World Series.
But it’s now clear that neither cancellation nor use of the 45s is likely. There have simply been too many millions invested in the development of 72s to downshift now (roughly $8-10 mil per boat), and some teams undoubtedly think their unique adaptation of the AC72 ‘box rule’ will capture the Cup.
Despite the sobering impact of the Artemis tragedy, we remain (cautiously) bullish on the Cup. We just hope to God no one else gets hurt. The boats of all four teams are in town now, and training on the Bay will resume tomorrow.