On a beautiful spring evening in late April, I attended the Ocean Independence’s Legends in London event. This exclusive cocktail reception, held at the Mall Galleries, showcased both the America’s Cup and the Louis Vuitton Cup, together for the first time in many years in London. During the elegant event guests got the chance to see revolutionary on-board footage of America’s Cup sailing. Among the star-studded guests were Olympic-medalist Sir Ben Ainslie, skipper of the JP Morgan Team Great Britain, Paul Campbell-James, skipper of the Prada Luna Rossa Team, Tom Ehman Vice Commodore of the Golden Gate Yacht Club representing Oracle Team USA , the defender of 34th America’s Cup, Iain Murray, the America’s Cup Regatta Director, Christine Belanger, the organizer of the Louis Vuitton Cup. The next generation of sailors, the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup racing team members with Director Andy Hindley, were also in attendance. The event was a great prelude, generating excitement for the 34thAmerica’s Cup that will take place in San Francisco this summer. The America’s Cup kicks off with the Louis Vuitton Challenger series, which runs from July 4 to August 30, with the final America’s Cup match taking place September 7 to 21.
Shortly after my return to San Francisco, tragedy struck when, on May 9, the Artemis Racing team’s catamaran capsized during a training race. Sadly crewmember Andrew Simpson was killed and the team’s AC72 racing yacht destroyed. Simpson was a remarkable sailor, having won a gold medal for Great Britain in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a silver medal at last year’s London Olympics. Simpson had joined the Artemis team in February 2013 as a strategist. Needless to say, the America’s Cup has been in choppy waters following this terrible accident. Artemis, which represents the Royal Swedish Yacht Club, had been considered the leading challenger for the Cup. However, the team has had its share of upheaval in the build-up to this year’s competition, including an April 2012 capsizing at the America’s Cup World Series in Naples and the replacement of American skipper Terry Hutchinson by Australian Nathan, who won a gold medal at the London Olympics.
This tragic accident has ignited a new debate about the safety of the high-tech, high-speed and, oftentimes, highrisk AC72 class of yachts that are being raced in the Cup. While much faster and more exciting than sloops, AC72 catamarans have proved hard to handle. The wing sail looks and acts like an airplane wing, improving the yacht’s speed and maneuverability. The hull of these seven-ton boats is actually lifted out of the water, where it skims along the waves on “foils”, reducing drag and can increase speed dramatically up to 45 miles an hour.
Many will recall another major accident that occurred just last year, when the Oracle team’s $10 million AC72 capsized in 25-knot winds and strong tides swept it 4 miles past the Golden Gate Bridge into the Pacific Ocean. Luckily no one was injured, but the rough waters destroyed the wing sail. Since then, further precautions have been taken, such as crash helmets and life vests for sailors and the addition of doctors and divers to rescue boats.
The America’s Cup, the oldest major international sporting event, was traditionally raced in slower mono-hull yachts. But after Larry Ellison and the Golden Gate Yacht Club won the Cup in 2010 in a huge multihull with an innovative wing mainsail, Ellison’s team decided to defend the 34th America’s Cup in 72- foot catamarans with the same wing-sail technology, for a more extreme sport. In addition, having the boats closer to shore has made the sport more popular with viewers and has broadened the sport’s fan base by appealing to a younger demographic.
Iain Murray, the Regatta Director, said at a press conference “the race will go ahead this summer. We will see the world’s best sailors racing at the highest level on one of the most iconic race tracks in sport.” While the owner of the Prada Team Patrizio Bertelli has expressed concern for his team’s safety, Max Sirena, skipper of the Luna Rossa said in an interview, “The boat is basically too powerful. At the same time, this is our sport. This is a risk we take.” Organizers and crewmembers are ready to compete this summer, so stay tuned as this exciting world-class event unfolds on San Francisco Bay.