A familiar set of questions is being asked after a 72-foot catamaran belonging to Artemis Racing capsized in the San Francisco Bay, trapping a British sailor underwater for ten minutes on Thursday afternoon. The sailor, British Olympic gold medalist Andrew "Bart" Simpson, was pulled out from under the wrecked boat and taken to the nearby St. Francis Yacht Club, where he was pronounced dead. He was 36 years old.
And so everybody's wondering: Is the San Francisco Bay too dangerous for America's Cup training? Is the race itself too dangerous? It was just six months ago that Larry Ellison's 72-foot America's Cup boat capsized in the San Francisco Bay after zipping underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. And this was after Ellison was allowed to dictate the size limitations for boats competing in the race, opening the door for these giant catamarans. "Has Ellison's plan to turn the world's most famous yacht race into a high-tech white-knuckle NASCAR of the sea gone too far for speed?" the San Jose Mercury News wondered at the time.
The new class of America's Cup contenders is simply a consequence of the race's hypercompetitive tradition. To keep the race exciting, they say, the sailors have to keep pushing the limits. The sailors prepare for the worst, many of them wearing helmets on board and carrying mini oxygen canisters in their pockets in case they get trapped under water. "If you can only race to the top of first gear, it's boring," Team Oracle USA leader Jimmy Spithill said in November. "You need to be pushed."
It must be a team philosophy. Oracle's chief engineer Dirk Kramers echoed the sentiment, "If nobody takes risks there will be no progress."