[Updated] There Will Be Safety Questions After A Tragedy In The America's Cup Preparations

Terrible news from San Francisco today with British Olympian Andrew “Bart” Simpson being killed in an accident during preparations for the America’s Cup with Artemis Racing.

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Simpson was stuck under water for 10 minutes after the huge AC72 yacht – one of the fastest boat designs ever built – pitch-poled and tipped the crew into the water.

Emergency crews got to the scene and tried CPR but Simpson, who won Olympic gold in 2008 in the star class, was pronounced dead at the St Francis Yacht Club. Artemis Racing CEO Paul Cayard said:

“Our prayers are with Andrew Simpson’s family, his wife and kids, and also the rest of my teammates. It’s a shocking experience to go through, and we have a lot to deal with in the next few days in terms of assuring everybody’s well being.

“The boat’s under control, but that’s not the first of our concerns. We’re focused on the people.

“That’s what we’re working with and on and we’ll give you more information when we’re able to.”

Pitch-poling is a danger for catamarans and happens when the boat’s bow digs into the water, flipping the back of the boat into the air.

The AC72’s huge sail, or “wing”, allows it to generate extraordinary boat speed. But there is inherent danger for the crews, who wear protective headgear, with such huge physical forces at work.

The America’s Cup organisers will now have to look carefully at safety arrangements as it’s not the first time this has happened with an AC72. Oracle Team USA’s first boat pitch-poled last year during training, doing a reported $1m in damage to the yacht.

As the boat tipped and the crew started falling from the dizzying heights of the stern – several storeys up in the air – Australian skipper Jimmy Spithill yelled “keep an eye on your mates”.

Check out this video of the Oracle capsize – including the huge speed it builds up just before the crash.

The prospect of the AC72s racing for the America’s Cup against the spectacular backdrop of San Francisco Bay – basically a giant open-air stadium of nature – has been exciting but there is now a cloud over it with the tragic death of a great sailor.

Update: Wired has published this piece looking at the details of what went wrong in the Artemis crash. Key excerpt:

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.

More at Wired.

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