The sailing world is coming to terms with the news that Artemis Racing crewman, Andrew “Bart” Simpson was killed today in a training accident when their 72 catamaran capsized and broke up. Simpson was trapped underneath the boat, for almost 10 minutes according to some reports. Despite attempts to revive him, by doctors afloat and subsequently ashore, his life was lost.
“The entire Artemis Racing team is devastated by what happened,” said CEO Paul Cayard. “Our heartfelt condolences are with Andrew’s wife and family.”
Andrew James Simpson MBE (born 17 December 1976, died 9 May 2013), nicknamed Bart Simpson, was a hugely popular British sailor. He won a gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, as crew for skipper Iain Percy in the Star class. Iain is the Sailing Team Director for Artemis Racing alongside Bart. They competed at the 2012 Olympic Games, in Weymouth, Great Britain and in front the home crowd narrowly missed out on a second gold medal as they lost the lead in the final 100m to the finish of the last race.
An accident waiting to happen?
This is the second time a sailor has died during training for the America’s Cup. In 1999, Martin Wizner of the Spanish Challenge died almost instantly when he was hit in the head by a broken piece of equipment. That could have been considered a freak accident, but this is the second an America’s Cup 72 foot catamaran, AC72, that has capsized and been badly damaged in training. Oracle Racing capsized their AC72 just 8 days after launching and the boat was badly damaged, but fortunately no one was hurt.
The question on everyone’s lips is “Are these 72 foot hydro-foiling monsters simply too big and too fast to be sailing in San Francisco Bay – or even sailing at all?” Their wing masts are 40m which is the equivalent of a 15 floor apartment building and they can reach speeds of over 40mph.
Paul Cayard, CEO and tactician of Artemis Racing, has plenty of experience with the tricky conditions in San Francisco Bay. His prediction just after the Oracle Racing AC72 capsize in October 2012 was prophetic: “It will be a miracle if we get through the summer without it happening to somebody,” he says. “We’re going to start pushing harder, we are going to race, and those kinds of boats — catamarans — tip over.”
AC45s at the America’s Cup World Series
The America’s Cup World Series was a series of regattas around the world which has just finished in Naples. 10 teams have been competing in AC45s. These are 45 foot catamarans which are smaller, less powerful than the AC72’s. However they have shown that, whilst they capsize, they do not break up and can be recovered.
These AC45s were effectively superseded by the AC72s which will be used to race the America’s Cup in the summer. However the cost of running an AC72 campaign has meant the 10 teams have been reduced to 4 teams; Artemis Racing, Luna Ross, Emirates Team New Zealand, and the challenger which is Oracle.
The AC45s have been given to the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup teams who will be using them to train up to the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup in early September. The instructions when the boats were handed over was “Don’t capsize them”. Sadly those instructions were unheeded by the LessAdmin.com sponsored USA team, American Sailing Youth Force team, who capsized at the weekend, but without major incident.
Like driving a car when the steering wheel comes off in your hand
Turning from an upwind heading to a downwind heading is a basic maneuver in a conventional sailboat. “If you ever got into trouble,” Oracle Racing AC72 skipper Spithill says, “you would just pull the sails down.” But on a wing sailed catamaran, that’s not possible. Because of the AC72′s very power and efficiency, the boat’s design is its own worst enemy when it has to turn and sail square to the wind. With no way to switch a wingsail off, there’s only one way to get through the death zone: as quickly as possible. It requires a coordinated team effort. The sails have to be depowered, the daggerboards (retractable keels that drop from the center of each of the catamaran’s twin hulls) have to be adjusted, and the helmsman has to carve the tiller — all in split-second coordination. But on a windy afternoon if there’s a fumble at about 40 miles per hour, one of the hulls catches an edge, twisting the frame of the boat into a nosedive. “The rudders lifted out of the water,” Spithill recalls his AC72 capsize experience. It’s the sailing equivalent of the steering wheel coming off in his hands. Without steerage, there’s no way to keep the wind from pounding down the wing. The boat pitchpoles into an ass-over-teakettle capsize: bows down, rudders up. the result was a badly damaged AC72 which was virtually written off.
Choices, choice, choices
What these two recent AC72 capsizes have done is to potentially put the vision of the America’s Cup at risk. There are several courses of action that the America’s Cup organizing committee can take.
1. The show must go on: They can gather breath, mourn the death of a talented sailor, and continue with the program. Just like motor racing, which still has regular fatalities, racing these boats is dangerous. The crews understand that. Motor racing has got safer as the technology has evolved and the organisers have changed to rules to protect the competitors whilst keeping the spectator value. However, there is a question about whether Artemis Racing will pull out as their AC72 was very badly damaged. If that happened it would reduce the event to 2 challengers and one defender, and with it the spectator and TV appeal of the America’s Cup.
2. Rule changes: They could look at changing the rules to make the boats inherently safer, and more robust when, not if, they crash. This could be banning the hydrofoils, requiring them to be heaver and stronger, sailing them in a less windy area of the Bay, and mandating safety equipment for the crew to prevent, or at least limit, future fatalities. Looking again at The crews are now wearing helmets and some level padding. But they could be required to wear some form of body armour, but also have a small portable air canister in their life jacket which will give them several minutes of air whilst trapped under the boat. Nevertheless, being thrown from 72 feet up in the air into the water whilst travelling at 40mph is always going to be bad for your health, no matter what you are wearing. Back to the parallels of motor racing the car construction plus changes in rules to slow the cars in Formula 1 has dramatically reduced the fatalities.
3. Back to AC45s. They could all agree to revert to the AC45 catamarans. Whilst they are not as fast and spectacular as the AC72s, they are a proven boat. And they are plenty fast enough to thrill the spectators. It would allow the other teams to be able to enter the challenger round of sailing which again would improve the event for spectators. This would take a change to the rules of the America’s Cup would throw it all up in the air again. In the World Rally Championships (WCR) the cars were getting faster and more extreme. The Group B cars bore little resemblance to the the cars you and I could buy. But a series of horrific accidents in which the hugely talented Henri Toivenen was killed in 1986 forced the WCR to rethink the rules. Within hours Group B was banned. The move to only having modified versions of road cars has made the WCR more popular.
The future is far from clear.
We need to give the America’s Cup organisation time to come up with a considered response. The assessment of the damage to the Artemis boat has not even started, and it is way too early to start speculating on the damage to the entire America’s Cup.