America’s Cup officials said on Tuesday that the premier yacht race is on course to take place as planned, despite the death of a veteran sailor from the Swedish team during training last week.
The accident that killed British Olympian and Artemis Racing member Andrew Simpson had raised concerns that high-performance AC72 catamarans, intended to rev up the event, might be deemed too dangerous for sailors.
Simpson died when the Swedish team’s AC72 overturned while training on San Francisco Bay on Thursday last week.
All four teams remain on board for the competition in San Francisco Bay, which gets underway in July with Louis Vuitton Cup matches to decide who takes on the champion Oracle crew in September.
“The America’s Cup will go ahead this summer,” the cup’s external affairs director Tom Ehman said during a press briefing at Pier 27 in San Francisco. “We will see the world’s best sailors racing at the highest level on the iconic San Francisco Bay.”
The AC72 boats in the America’s Cup have been described by event organizers as “speedsters” powered by 39.6m tall wing sails and with the ability to hydrofoil, essentially rise out of the water to reduce drag.
It will be the first time teams in the finals race with multi-hull boats tailored to an America’s Cup design rule that also calls for “shorthanded” crews of 11 members.
Small crews mean those on board will have to hustle grinding winches, heaving lines and tending to other tasks in high-speed races with lots of maneuvering.
Cup officials met with leaders of each of the four teams early on Tuesday to brief them on the make-up of a committee formed to look into the fatal accident and ways to make the 34th America’s Cup safer, according to Ehman.
“There was not even a thought given this morning to doing anything but continuing apace,” Ehman said of the meeting.
The six-member review team included regatta director Iain Murray, Vincent Lauriot-Prevost of French multi-hull design firm Van Peteghem Lauriot Prevost, New Zealand lawyer Jim Farmer and veteran sailor John Craig.
The committee is to commence its work today after Prevost and Farmer arrive in the US, according to Murray.
“There has been a lot of sailing of AC72 yachts around the world, many hours, and there has been a huge amount of success with that,” Murray said.
“These boats have exceeded all expectations and part of that is for us to review, and understand and comment on how we manage this incredible speed and dynamics these boats have,” he added.
The review team will work with the US Coast Guard and San Francisco police who are investigating the capsizing last week that killed Simpson, an accomplished sailor from Britain who was part of Artemis Racing of Sweden.
Murray said the review process would include getting safety recommendations from Artemis Racing, Emirates Team New Zealand, Luna Rossa and defending US champions Oracle.
“We will look at everything from the race courses to the times we sail and the winds we sail in,” Murray said. “We have an open book as to what we are going to look at and unfettered access to people we need to talk to.”
The sailing teams have taken a week off training out of respect for the loss and are expected to return to the bay today.
Murray expected the police report about the accident to be completed this week or next.
“The America’s Cup family is trying to pull through this tragedy; to learn from it and make the racing this summer as safe as possible,” Murray said.
“The teams were subdued,” he said of that morning’s meeting. “There is an incredible amount of emotion, especially from the sailors. It is a tight-knit community and everyone is united.”