Drama as Oracle Racing capsize their big cat in San Francisco and a big set back for the Defenders

Oracle Racing has suffered a major setback in its campaign to defend the America’s Cup after the team’s AC72 capsized in San Fancisco Bay, destroying the wing and causing serious damage to the hulls. No crew were injured in the pitch pole which happened during a bear away in brisk conditions.

See an extensive images taken during the capsize HERE.

At 1900 local (0200GMT) the rescue operation to recover the hulls was continuing as darkness fell. “We called for a bear-away as we were out training. The winds were blowing about 25 knots, and there was strong ebb current at the time (the strongest of the year). We started the bear-away, and as the boat accelerated it pitch-poled,” said tactician Tom Slingsby.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen with the new boat. When the nose went down, the wing hit and a few guys went in the water. We were unsure if the wing would snap, so we all climbed off the boat.

“Luckily, everyone is accounted for and no one was hurt. The wing is pretty badly damaged, and we are working to get the boat back in position to return to Pier 80.”

The capsize took place during the team’s eighth day on the water. Conditions were fresh, with building winds whipping up waves against one of the strongest ebb currents of the year. As the team turned the giant catamaran downwind, the front of the boat nosedived and the boat pitch-poled.

With the boat on its side, the sea conditions quickly inflicted damage on the wing. The boat was pulled out to sea by the strong current, and as darkness fell, the team was still working to secure the catamaran platform and bring it back to base. The wing is destroyed.

“There’s no question this is a setback. This will be a big test for our team,” said skipper Jimmy Spithill. “But I’ve seen these guys in a similar situation in the past campaign before we won the America’s Cup. A strong team will bounce back from it. This won’t stop us from winning the America’s Cup.”

Each team competing in the 34th America’s Cup and Louis Vuitton Cup (the America’s Cup Challenger Series) can build two AC72 boats. This was the first of two boats to be built and launched by ORACLE TEAM USA. The second is due to be launched early in the new year.

Event organizers say the setback to the American team won’t impact the 2013 racing calendar.
“This is a challenge for ORACLE TEAM USA,” said Stephen Barclay, the CEO of the 34th America’s Cup. “The team will assess how to fix the damage caused by the capsize to this boat and will adjust its program as necessary. We expect them to be ready to defend the Cup as planned.”

This is a big setback for the Defenders. While the AC45’s capsize and damage their wings regularly, the kit is far smaller and there are spares available. While a second AC72 is in build, these cats are on a different scale with no off the shelf spares available.

But the real concern for Oracle Racing will be the damage to the team’s confidence and whether the concept of their design is flawed. This is the second major incident since launching the boat in just 8 days of sailing. The first failure happened when a foil broke during the first day’s testing.

At this stage there is little news on what caused the capsize but given that the hydrofoiling element of Oracle Racing’s dagger boards is supposed to provide lift to the bows in just this situation there must surely be some concern as to whether a problem here caused the capsize.

For the event as a whole, the drama will cause a great deal of concern. Capsizing boats of this size is not only risky for the crews, but demonstrates how quickly the planned programme of racing could change if this were to happen during the build up to the event. With just three Challengers and a Defender, one accident could leave a big hole in the proceedings.