And what next? Could the event be cancelled?
Twenty four hours after the unthinkable happened, details are starting to emerge and further questions asked as to the circumstances surrounding the capsize of Artemis’ AC72 and the death of crew member Andrew Simpson.
Following several press meetings we now know that two investigations are under way, one by the San Francisco Police Department, a normal procedure in the event of loss of life and the second by America’s Cup Race management led by its head Iain Murray. In a media conference call Murray and AC Event Authority head Stephen Barclay explained the process while outlining what was known about the incident at this stage.
“At around 1pm on Thursday Artemis was out training with Oracle Racing”, explained Murray. “There was a flood tide running in the Bay of around 2-3 knots which meant that the water was flat, ideal sailing conditions with the breeze around 18-20knots with gusts maybe a little bit higher. A very typical San Francisco day.”
“Neither of the boats was doing anything that they hadn’t done before and there was nothing out of the ordinary in their behaviour,” he continued.
“They had sailed upwind and were preparing to sail downwind. The end result was that the boat ended up capsizing, breaking up and the whole boat inverted. The wing was on top and the hull broken off and the [support] crew went into the process they had practiced and went looking for the people. Unfortunately Andrew [Simpson] was missing and couldn’t be found for some time. There were people scouring the water and around the broken boat. Unfortunately he was trapped under some solid sections of the boat, probably as a result of it breaking apart.”
Establishing the sequence of events will be crucial in ascertaining precisely what led to the fatal capsize. While structural failure has been suggested as the cause of the capsize, there is as yet no evidence to suggest whether a failure caused the capsize or came as a result of Artemis burying her bows during the bear away. While capsizing these giant cats has always been a major worry, the thought that a boat could break up under sail raises concerns to a new level.
When pressed on the precise sequence of events Murray said, “There is all sorts of speculation as to what happened and there appears to be a difference of opinion as to what came first. At this stage we do not know.”
Questions have also been asked as to the future the event. Could the Cup be postponed or even cancelled?
“At this stage we’re not making any statements on the impact of the event because we simply don’t know,” replied Stephen Barclay. “I have every expectation that we will host a spectacular event here in the summer, but I’m not going to prejudge it. Iain will conduct his review and we will see the outcome and recommendations of that.”
So could the authorities call a halt to the event?
“We have permits that allow us to do these things,” explained Barclay. “I would image they might be able to rescind them, but there’s no comment about that at all so far.”
Murray added, “We have had an excellent relationship with the US Coast Guard who issued the permits. We have a great trust in each other and I believe that they see the actions that we are taking as the right actions. There has been no discussion of withdrawing permits or stopping racing.”
With the Cup community still in shock over the event it is perhaps hardly surprising that there are no firm answers to such questions at present, yet the tragic event also raises questions as to whether there will even be any boats to compete. Plenty of those involved in the Cup including some skippers such as Dean Barker had expressed concern that boat breakdown could reduce the already small fleet of three Challengers.
“July and August are two difficult months to survive,” he had said during the AC World Series event in Naples three weeks ago. “These are two of the windiest months in San Francisco and it will be a challenge just to keep things together. It would be good if we could get all the Challengers through the breezy conditions of the Round Robin phase and have them to race against each other in the build up to the Cup. But there is a risk that there won’t be boats to race against.”
And it may not be simply a breakdown that reduces the number of teams turning up on the start line. A recent Italian article claimed that Luna Rossa boss Patrizio Bertelli had said that his team would decide over the next 48 hours whether to continue their participation in the Cup and that he would accept whatever decision his team made, including stopping the campaign.
The most ambitious step in the modern America’s Cup is now proving to be a traumatic one with more questions than answers just weeks away from the beginning of the Challenger series.
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