America's Cup champion Oracle Team USA sustained damage to its newest catamaran just minutes into the first day of its two-boat testing program on San Francisco Bay.
The damage to the headstay was enough to force the high-performance boat back to the dock Tuesday morning. The syndicate's older boat went back out on the water for training with skipper Jimmy Spithill at the helm.
"We had a pretty nice afternoon of training," Spithill said in a phone interview. "The boys will be able to fix it tonight and we'll be able to be out there in two boats tomorrow."
Spithill was at the helm of Oracle's newest boat when the damage occurred to a strut on the headstay near where the jib attaches. Spithill said it wasn't worth the risk to continue to sail the 72-foot catamaran, which was launched in late April.
The buildup to the 34th America's Cup already has been marred by the death of Andrew "Bart" Simpson on May 9 when Artemis Racing's 72-foot catamaran capsized, trapping the British sailor underneath.
In mid-October, Oracle's first boat capsized and was swept under the Golden Gate Bridge. The churning of the waves smashed the 131-foot mainsail, which looks and performs like an airplane wing. The syndicate was sidelined for about four months until a new wing sail arrived.
Spithill was at the helm of the newer boat when the damage occurred Tuesday. Ben Ainslie, a four-time Olympic gold medalist from Britain, was at the helm of the other boat.
Spithill said two-boat testing is a big endeavor.
"It's a big ask to put two of these boats in the water together to make it happen," he said.
But it's the kind of work the syndicate has to do to try to keep the America's Cup in the hands of the Golden Gate Yacht Club.
"In Formula One and NASCAR, they have racetracks that don't change. Our racetrack changes every single day," Spithill said. "The wind and water are always different. It's hard to do one-boat testing. For us, it's best to keep one boat constant and make changes to the other boat."
Since there won't be defender trials, two-boat testing will help prepare Oracle for the America's Cup match, which begins Sept. 7 against the winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup for challengers.
The Louis Vuitton Cup begins July 7 with a race between Emirates Team New Zealand and Italy's Luna Rossa. Artemis plans to launch its new boat in early July and be racing by late in the month.
Russell Coutts, the CEO of Oracle Team USA, said the syndicate has started following safety recommendations made after Simpson's death. Among them were installing new rudder wings on both boats to give them more stability, particularly when they foil. Foiling is a recent advancement in which the hulls of the 7-ton boats skim across the top of the waves supported only by the two rudders and a daggerboard in the leeward hull. Foiling reduces the drag on the boat and increases the speed dramatically.
Simpson's death has heightened the focus on safety.
"We've got to be more on the edge about checking everything and making sure things are done right before you get on these boats," Coutts said.