Artemis has structural problems during testing - Matthew Sheahan reports on a tough week for the Cup
It’s been a bad week for half the teams in the next America’s Cup. First came Oracle’s spectacular and disturbing pitch pole in which their AC72’s wing was destroyed setting the team’s campaign back. Now comes news that Swedish Challenger Artemis has also suffered damage to their boat, albeit in not such dramatic circumstances when damage was incurred to the front beam of the catamaran.
The AC72 has been hauled out of the water and the design team, led by Principal Designer Juan Kouyoumidjian, is on site to evaluate the damage. This setback will delay the Swedish team’s AC72 sailing program.
“As a team, it is our responsibility not to launch these boats until every single box has been ticked in terms of safety and structural integrity. This is a key part of the due diligence process when entering unknown territory,” said Laurent Esquier, COO of Artemis Racing.
“The plan was to launch and tow the boat, to put it through its paces at speed, then to step the wing and do the champagne ceremony. We launched the boat, towed it to the bridge at speed and on the way back we heard some noises as we were loading the catamaran platform itself.”
“So the stepping of the wing and the champagne christening will not be today. The boat will come out of the water and go into the shed and we will spend the rest of the day thoroughly going through it.”
Skipper Terry Hutchinson was philosophical about the delay. “We were just out towing around and heard a couple of things going – nothing major, but we’re working through the process of getting a brand new boat worked up,” he said. “We have to be meticulous and spot on with everything that we’re doing – especially in light of what’s been happening around us. We’re just at the start of the process and off we go. It should be a good 9 months.”
Esquier went on to say that carbon fibre, the primary construction material, “Is a strange animal. You hear noises and you just don’t know. So we need to do our due diligence and assess the integrity of the structure.”
The news provides further concern as to how precarious the plans for the 34th America’s Cup are. Damage and breakdown is always a part of any grand prix campaign, but in the case of Oracle’s damage in particular, the speed with which the team has suffered such a major setback raises questions as to what happens if such an incident happened once the Cup cycle gets under way next year. With the Louis Vuitton trials due to start in July next year, there is precious little runway to develop these extreme boats as it is. The punchy conditions and strong tides in San Francisco Bay make this venue a tricky and precarious place to sail at times compared to the relatively benign, tide free conditions in Valencia. Capsizes and pitchpoles have been a familiar sight in the AC45 class since the fleet first arrived.
Righting a repairing a one design AC45 is a straightforward affair in many cases as there are spare parts that are common across the fleet. This will not be the case with the one off AC72s. Replacing a boat or a wing for a 72 footer after tripping up in the Bay is no simple task. With the wing alone reputed to cost around $2million there will not be many spares hanging up in the team store room. Word has it that the American Defenders may not be able to replace their wing until the end of the year. If true this would take two and a half months out of a campaign that has just eleven months to run.
With no specific details on Artemis’ damage and the tine it will take to repair it is difficult to assess what impact this will have on the Swedish challenger’s campaign. Since arriving in San Francisco in mid August, the 72footer’s first sail has been long awaited as dock gossip gathered that the Swedish team had not included foiling as an option initially and had been caught on the back foot as the Kiwis and Americans started to fly.
The delay in her maiden sail and these recent towing tests might suggest that the team has been playing catch up and working on foiling their cat. To see Oracle’s second breakdown, (the first came on their maiden sail when a main foil broke), will be of serious concern to the Swedish team as indeed it will to both of the other two Challengers, Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa.
The biggest worry may be that the America’s Cup becomes an expensive game of last man standing.