America’s Cup director Iain Murray announced that he will lead a review of the events surrounding the capsize of Artemis Racing’s first AC72 catamaran and the subsequent tragic death of crewman Andrew Simpson.
During training Thursday on San Francisco Bay the AC72 capsized in winds between 18 and 20 knots. The boat broke apart and Simpson, 36, became trapped.
Support vessels rushed to recover the crew from the water and it quickly became apparent that Simpson was missing. After he was retrieved, CPR was administered by trained professionals, afloat and at the dock, for more than 20 minutes. He was pronounced dead about 30 minutes after the accident.
“It’s too early to speculate about the causes of the accident. Iain will conduct the review and will liaise with the San Francisco Police Department and the United States Coast Guard and any other third-party experts, as necessary,” America’s Cup Event Authority CEO Stephen Barclay said at a Friday press briefing.
“All we know is that the boat ended up capsized, the hulls upside down, broken in half,” Murray said. “The split seconds from when the boat was sailing upwind to the pictures that we’ve all seen (of the boat turned upside down and broken apart), there’s a gap in there, and that’s what we need to fill in and find out what happened.”
“This is a tragic reminder of the challenges faced by sailors on the water, whether they’re commercial sailors or recreational or professional sailors,” said Capt. Matt Bliven of Coast Guard Sector San Francisco, which will liaise with Murray on the review.
“It also underlines the importance of adequate training and proper gear to minimize the impact when something goes wrong. That’s something we’ve consistently seen from the America’s Cup organization and the participating teams — their level of preparation and training to avert these types of mishaps,” Bliven said.
No timetable has been placed on completing the review. The San Francisco Police Department is conducting its own review as a normal procedure when there is loss of life.
Reuters published a report about how the accident highlights the risk of squeezing every knot out of the 72-foot speed sailers designed and built specifically for this race.
"When you push the technology beyond the point of safety I'm not sure that's good for any sport," Scott MacLeod, a managing director at the sports marketing firm WSM Communications who has worked closely with America's Cup teams and sponsors for two decades, told Reuters.
In a related story, the fatal accident has prompted Sailing Team Germany announced the withdrawal of its squad that had qualified for the Youth America’s Cup, which is scheduled to be sailed Sept. 1-4 on San Francisco Bay, prior to the America’s Cup finals.
“We can’t and we won’t take responsibility for sending our young team over there. The death of one sailor is reason enough [to withdraw],” Sailing Team Germany founder Oliver Schwall said in a statement. “We also feel that our decision has to send an important message after this disaster. It’s time [for organizers] to start thinking.”
The Youth America’s Cup is contested on the smaller AC45 cats that also are sailed in the America’s Cup World Series, but even these smaller boats are racing machines that can be difficult to tame. Additionally, these young teams bring a lot less experience to the starting line than the professionals do.
“Until the beginning of the Youth America’s Cup there should have been more training sessions, but those already were reduced to about 10 practice days on the water,” Schwall said. “To us, that’s simply insufficient for a thorough preparation.”