On May 9 it was a typical blustery day on the bay when tragedy struck the America’s Cup. Andrew “Bart” Simpson — a two-time Star class Olympic medalist, winning gold in Beijing and Silver in London — and one of the 11-man crew aboard Artemis Racing’s AC72, was killed when their boat capsized during a training run. Reports were that Simpson was trapped beneath the boat for nearly 10 minutes, and despite efforts to revive him, both afloat and on-shore at the Marina Green, his life was lost.
This tragedy caused the America’s Cup organizers to immediately suspend further training and to reconsider all safety measures. While teams were already employing safety equipment such as helmets and body armor, personal flotation devices, and even personal air supply, new additional measures are being implemented along with scheduling and boat changes to ensure such a tragedy does not happen again. On May 22, the America’s Cup Regatta director, Iain Murray, delivered 37 formal recommendations to improve the safety of the AC72s on San Francisco Bay. To further ensure the safety of all crew members, the America’s Cup Event Authority (ACEA) and America’s Cup Race Management (ACRM) have added these recommendations in their entirety to an amended Marine Event Permit application and submitted it to the Coast Guard. The safety recommendations will become requirements to participate in the AC72 events this summer when approved.
The recommendations include specific changes to the boats, the race, and scheduling with the aim of reducing the risk of capsize. The AC is increasing the weight limit for the boats, which will give them better stability as they fly across the bay. Upon any capsize during a race, the other team will automatically be awarded the win so the main focus will be on the safety and security of the capsized crew. Races will start one hour earlier to avoid the typically higher winds in the afternoon. There is also a reduced wind limit, where sailing will be suspended if winds are greater than 20 knots in July, 21 knots in August, and 23 knots in September. The round robin of the Louis Vuitton Cup will also be reduced from seven to five rounds. Other race changes include soft marks replacing the mark boats, no guest racers or camera crew allowed on board during racing, and the removal of fines for not competing if a team feels it is unsafe to continue.
Because capsize will still be a continued threat as these state-of-the-art boats push the boundaries of speed and sailing, further requirements are focused on crew safety. Those requirements include enhanced safety gear such as crew locator devices, a hands-free breathing apparatus, high-visibility helmets, and an electronic head-count system. Additional support equipment will also be required, including a minimum of two rescue boats to each AC72, with one diver and one rescue swimmer per rescue boat, and one paramedic carrying an automated external defibrillator device on one of the rescue boats.
There will be ongoing review by the AC organizers, with more recommendations likely before the teams begin racing in July. In the meantime, Oracle Team USA has resumed training on the bay, and has now been joined by teams Luna Rossa and Emirates Team New Zealand, having recently relocated their boats and crew from training down in New Zealand. As of this writing, Challenger of Record Artemis Racing is back to work but not yet sailing. As CEO and team tactician, the Bay Area’s own Paul Cayard recently reported that “we will only race if our sailing team believes they are safe racing AC72s.” Artemis has their own ongoing investigation into the accident as they continue to come to grips with the loss of their teammate.
As Stephen Barclay, CEO of the ACEA wrote, “Safety was always the priority. Improving it is a constant quest and there is always more work to be done, but it is good to be able to move forward knowing we are all collectively focused on doing everything we possibly can so that any future incident doesn’t result in the loss of another great sailor’s life.”
For up-to-date local race information on the Bay, visit www.yra.org, www.ggyc.com, and www.stfyc.com. To purchase tickets (now on sale) or learn more about the America’s Cup, go to www.americascup.com and visit www.oracle-team-usa.americascup.com/ to follow Team USA’s progress.