$10M Mast Breaks on Ellison's Boat

The helmsman of the America's Cup challenger calls mast mishap 'small setback

By Mari Payton
|  Wednesday, Nov 4, 2009  |  Updated 12:24 PM PDT
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Racers Await Court Outcome

The BMW Oracle racing team training off the coast of Point Loma

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Racers Await Court Outcome

The BMW Oracle racing team is training off the coast of Point Loma in the event the team wins a court challenge and gets to go one-on-one against the Swiss team for the America's Cup.
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The mast on America's Cup challenger BMW Oracle Racing's 90-foot trimaran broke off while testing 30 miles off Point Loma near San Diego.

Larry Ellison, the Oracle Corp. founder and CEO owns BMW Oracle Racing.  The team is backed by San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club. It had been testing its space age-looking trimaran in San Diego since last fall.

The boat was traveling about 20 knots or 23 miles per hour when the 200-foot mast collapsed Tuesday morning.

Eight crewmembers were aboard and escaped injury. "That's the most important part, the crew got off safe," helmsman James Spithill said once the crew returned to shore Tuesday night.

Weather was not a factor according to the crew. "The weather was actually quite nice. It was relatively light wind speeds and the sea state was quite flat," Spithill said.

"Until we really delve into it and dig through our analysis tools we don't know what the cause of the failure was," he said. Cameras on board the trimaran may help determine exactly what went wrong.

The carbon-fiber mast cost an estimated $10 million and supported a main sail that's twice as big as a Boeing 747's wing.

As always, the trimaran had several high-speed support craft with it while testing. The crews on those boats salvaged the rigging.

The syndicate, scheduled to meet defending champion Alinghi of Switzerland on Feb. 8, has two other masts.

"The real heart of the team is the team that can come back from setbacks," said Spithill. "Obviously this is a small setback but I have no doubt this team will bounce back."

Larry Ellison, the Oracle Corp. founder and CEO owns BMW Oracle Racing.  The team is backed by San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club. It had been testing its space age-looking trimaran in San Diego since last fall.

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