America’s Cup race to go on this summer as planned with same large boats 

click to enlarge America’s Cup regatta director Iain Murray, left, and Golden Gate Yacht Club vice-commodore Tom Ehman, right, speak at a news conference Tuesday. - MIKE KOOZMIN/2013 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Mike Koozmin/2013 S.F. Examiner file photo
  • America’s Cup regatta director Iain Murray, left, and Golden Gate Yacht Club vice-commodore Tom Ehman, right, speak at a news conference Tuesday.

The 34th America’s Cup will go on as planned on San Francisco Bay this summer with the same large catamarans despite last week’s fatal training accident, regatta officials said Tuesday.

But in an effort to ensure future races are safe — and to find out what went wrong when Artemis Racing strategist Andrew “Bart” Simpson drowned after his team’s boat capsized near Treasure Island on Thursday — a team of sailing experts from around the world will conduct a review of all race procedures, including the crafts’ design.

All four teams entered in the regatta — including Artemis — signaled Tuesday their desire to continue to compete, according to Golden Gate Yacht Club vice-commodore Tom Ehman. At Tuesday’s team meeting, “there was not even a thought given ... except for continuing apace and making plans and preparations for this summer,” he said.

Any team could drop out at any time, but racing is scheduled to begin as scheduled July 5, officials said.

In the meantime, the sailing experts — including advisers who reviewed last year’s fatal sailing accident during a race around the Farallon Islands — will conduct a review of “the safety of training and racing” of the racing vessels that were specially designed for this year’s race to maximize speed.

San Francisco Bay was selected to host the regatta by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, whose Oracle Racing team won the America’s Cup in 2010. Under the rules, the winning team selects the venue and the general design of the boats for the next race.

The 72-foot-tall, double-hulled catamarans — known as “AC72” boats — are powered by a fixed wing, more similar to an aircraft’s wing than traditionally-rigged sails. The wing, combined with a hydrofoil that helps lift the boats out of the water, makes the catamarans very fast — capable of delivering the “NASCAR on the water” promised by race promoters.

But they have also proved to be unwieldy at times as well as extremely expensive. Defending Cup-holder Oracle Racing’s boat — which was damaged last fall when it capsized and was swept out past the Golden Gate Bridge by a strong tide — cost between $8 million and $10 million, according to reports.

As part of the review, the committee could impose restrictions on the weather conditions in which the boats are allowed to sail, and it could make recommendations on the design specifications, according to race director Iain Murray.

The death and the crash last week are still under investigation by the San Francisco Police Department. Simpson, a 36-year old Briton and two-time Olympic medalist, was caught underwater for 10 minutes after the Royal Swedish Yacht Club vessel he and his Artemis Racing teammates were sailing capsized.

All four teams have halted practice for a week’s “grace” following Simpson’s death. Practice could resume Thursday.

In an interview published in the New Zealand Herald, an anonymous sailor referred to the catamarans as “God-forsaken death traps.” The article also suggested that the 45-foot catamarans which raced on the Bay last fall could be raced instead of the larger, faster — and now deadlier — 72-foot boats.

Those rumors were also dismissed Tuesday.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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