In preparation for the America’s cup, team Artemis were out practicing on May 9, 2013.
Their AC72 catamaran capsized, causing the loss of life of a crewman, Andrew “Bart” Simson. While the cause of this capsize is still being investigated, it does look like there was a catastrophic mechanical failure of one of the beams that holds the two hulls together.
The America’s Cup has always been a place where the boundaries are pushed. Teams compete both on the water and in boat design to get an edge on each other, and there have been failures before. The Australian entry in the 1995 cup broke in half and sank during the challenger trials, and there have been many equipment failures such as broken masts. There have also been many successes. The New Zealand boat Black Magic was dominant both in crew work and in sail design, and beat Stars and Stripes 5-0 in the final. The boat that finally broke the American dominance of the cup, Australia II had a winged keel. Then there are the moments of win at all costs with the total foolishness of 1988 with a mono hull and a catamaran racing, and all of the legal challenges that followed.
Controversy seems to follow the cup, and this year is no exception. Watching the AC45’s race was been exciting and then the focus turned to the AC72’s. Wing sails and foiling were both huge factors in the design of these boats and teams struggled with the engineering. Team New Zealand broke a foil during early testing, then there there was the Oracle capsize and now the destruction of Artemis. Events are still unfolding, but it would seem that the current designs are a “work in progess” and some teams are ahead of the curve and some not so. Team New Zealand has demonstrated that their boat is robust and fast, Oracle seems to have bounced back from their earlier missteps and the Italian entry Prada seems to be robust, if a little slow. Artemis had problems from day one, and the destruction of the boat seems to demonstrate that they had not resolved them.
What should be done?
These are fantastically expensive boats to construct and test, and changing the rules at this point seems unfair to the teams that have done their homework. Further limiting the wind ranges that these boats are to operate in would seem to favor those teams that have built light (maybe too light). Going ahead with the format unchanged has its own risks as the Artemis disaster has shown. Lessons do need to be learned, and maybe the design of these boats are too cutting edge but this is not the time to fiddle. Let the Cup continue for this year and then revise the rules for the next one.