British double Olympic medallist Andrew Simpson was trapped in the wreckage of the @ArtemisRacing AC72. Adam Fisher at Wired.com has a few details on what happened today. If Fisher is correct, this accident was not a repeat of the Oracle AC72 capsize:
(…) Preliminary reports indicate Artemis’s boat didn’t capsize because the sailors were pushing too hard or made a mistake, as was the case with Team Oracle. The problem was with the boat itself, either faulty engineering or faulty construction. The boat simply broke apart under sail, folded, then flipped. The Artemis boat has had a history of cracking and problems with the carbon fiber used in the twin “beams” — the two girders that lash the two narrow hulls together. The boat had been in and out of the shed numerous times in an attempt to correct those problems. Today, however, the forward beam — the girder in front of the sail — gave way during a practice run. The two hulls, no longer connected, began sailing in slightly different directions. This caused one hull to snap just forward of the aft beam, and the mast, held up by high-tension rigging connected to the front of the hulls, simply fell over. The boat began to cartwheel, ultimately trapping Simpson underneath and drowning him.
Following the October 2012 Oracle capsize Adam Fisher wrote an after-action report The Boat That Could Sink the America’s Cup, which includes commentary arguing that the AC72 rule is too expensive, the design too dangerous.
(…) It’s a question that the other teams — Luna Rossa, New Zealand, and Artemis — are asking themselves now. Paul Cayard, CEO and tactician of Artemis Racing, has plenty of experience with the tricky conditions in San Francisco Bay. His prediction: At least one of the teams is going to capsize again. “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.”
The real unknown, he says, is whether the damage caused by the Oracle crash was, as Coutts argues, an exception, a bad accident compounded by severe tides — or something closer to the norm when an AC72 capsizes in the rough waters of the bay. “The Oracle capsize is a bit of an anomaly,” Cayard says. “But it could happen again.” Oracle and Artemis have a full contingency plan — a second complete boat. New Zealand has just a single complete boat and some spare parts. Prada is the most vulnerable, because it has only one boat. “If Prada did what Oracle did closer to June,” Cayard says, “they’d probably be out of the competition.” A $50 million effort (perhaps more), completely sunk.
(…) But the most telling thing I heard while visiting the repair shop came from Coutts, the CEO. I asked him what would happen to the radical new wingsail design after the Cup was over. “No matter who wins,” Coutts said, “they are definitely going to make changes: make the boat smaller, bring the team budgets down, stuff like that.” In other words, the CEO of Team Oracle now acknowledges that the AC72 is an overreach.
UPDATE 21 May: a NZ Herald piece back on 11 May contained an October 2012 quote from Russell Coutts that we have never seen:
…In an interview with the Herald in October, the four-times America’s Cup winner said: “In hindsight, I think there were two errors. One was I thought the boats needed to be quite large-scale to be grand enough for the America’s Cup. Clearly the world series has proven this wrong – the AC45s [a scaled-down catamaran class] look pretty damn good on TV. The other thing is, we possibly should have looked at making more of the components one-design.”
Also, for perspective on the dangers of top-level sailing, it is a useful reminder to look again at the 1995 sinking of Australia One. The Aussie sailors were lucky in that recovery – it could very easily have been tragic. And that is in boring old monohulls.