A new theory is emerging following this weeks' deadly capsizing of an America's Cup catamaran. Jean Elle reports.
This story was first published on May 12, 2013
A new theory is surfacing following the deadly capsizing of a 72 foot America's Cup catamaran on the San Francisco Bay that puts into question the integrity of the boat itself.
Olympic gold medalist Andrew "Bart" Simpson died when the sailboat nosedived during a training run. The Artemis Racing's catamaran was attempting to change direction and turn down wind when it capsized. Though difficult, the maneuver was normal, according to race officials.
America's Cup organizers have launched an investigation.
A member of the crew told an English newspaper that he heard a crack. Nathan Outteridge told the Newcastle Herald after the crack, the boat went airborne and when it fell back into the San Francisco Bay is was crumbling into pieces, and folding in on itself "like a taco shell."
Separate from that report, experts are questioning whether The Artemis boat was seaworthy to begin with.
Racing expert Kimball Livingston is an editor at Sail Magazine who has covered every America's Cup race since 1980. He told NBC Bay Area that Team Artemis was having trouble with the catamaran they called "Big Red" cracking.
"We know the boat had structural problems from the very beginning," Livingston said.
He said the first time it was towed behind a motorboat on the San Francisco Bay it cracked.
The cutting-edge towering catamarans are delicate by design.
"In terms of the integrity of the structure - what you have is a lot of pressure being put on two large hulls separated by 46 feet," Livingston said.
He added the boat designers need them to be light and are made of a compound of carbon fiber. The less you use, the faster the boat will go, but if you don't have enough of the carbon structure, it could break, according to Livingston.
The answer as to what caused the capsize should be in the wreckage. When investigators pull the rest of Big Red out of the waters off Treasure Island they will be able to determine if they boat broke apart prior to capsizing.
The fellow team-member also told the Newcastle Herald that the team made a desperate attempt to save Simpson as he was trapped. Outteridge said Simpson was wedged between "a few tons" of carbon fiber frantically trying to free himself.
He said they dived beneath the water to try to set him free, handing him an emergency oxygen bottle in hopes that it would keep him alive until rescue crews could free him. It wasn't enough. Simpson was declared dead back at the dock.
America's Cup executives vowed to learn what happened and to try to prevent anything like this from happening again.
"We take the safety of this sport very seriously," Regatta director Iain Murray said. Sailors are taught to "respect the ocean at all times."
As he addressed the throng of media at Pier 27 in San Francisco, Murray - whose responsibility includes everything that happens out on the water during the America's Cup race - teared up and took long pauses as he spoke. He called Simpson a "good friend" and a "larger-than-life character."
Artemis Team training was canceled on Friday and will likely not resume until at least Monday, official said.
While officials were shy on details into the investigation, which will be led by the San Francisco police department, no one was shy about singing the praises of Simpson, who had won Olympic gold in 2008 and silver in 2012 for his native England. He leaves behind a wife and two young sons.
"He was the heart and soul of the team," Tim Jeffery, Oracle Team USA spokesman told NBC Bay Area in a previous interview. "He was perpetually happy. It was like he had a little box inside that gave him a sunny outlook on life."
Simpson joined the team in February, providing his crew with weather and tactics support, according to the America's Cup website. Jeffery said Simpson's worth to the team was his ability was to "spot the breeze, read the breeze."
Magnus Auguston, the team's "grinder," said Simpson was was of the "finest guys I ever met," and a wonderful sailor, as well as husband and father.
And the British Olympic Association described him as a "treasured and accomplished member" of its teams.
On Friday, the same website showed dark gray clouds hovering over the Golden Gate Bridge, near where Simpson died on Thursday, with a quote from the Swedish team's CEO, Paul Cayard, simply stating, "Our prayers are with Andrew Simpson's family."
5 Things to Know about the America's Cup (Courtesy AP)
WHAT IS THE AMERICA'S CUP?
The America's Cup is considered sailing's most prestigious event and, along with the Olympics and World Cup soccer, among the world's largest global sporting events in terms of its economic impact. It began in 1851 when the New York Yacht Club's schooner, `America,' bested the British off the coast of England.
WHO OVERSEES IT?
The winner is responsible for choosing the site of the next race and making arrangements for it. Software billionaire Larry Ellison's Oracle Racing won the cup in 2010 off the coast of Spain. Ellison, who won the cup representing the San Francisco-based Golden Gate Yacht Club, chose the San Francisco Bay.
WHO IS COMPETING?
After organizers predicted about a dozen entries, only three competitors signed up to challenge Ellison for the America's Cup. They are: Artemis, which is representing the Royal Swedish Yacht Club; Luna Rossa Challenge, representing the Italian yacht club Circolo della Vela Sicilia and Emirates Team New Zealand, representing the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. Competing teams can spend more than $100 million to construct and race the space-age 72-foot dual-hull boats.
WHAT ARE THE RULES?
The three challengers will compete in a series of match races beginning July 7. The top two finishers will compete in a best of seven semi-final starting Aug. 6. The first to four victories will take on Oracle Racing starting Aug. 17. The finalists will race twice-a-day in a best-of-13 series. The first to seven wins is champion.
WHAT DOES THE COURSE LOOK LIKE?
Organizers boast the 34th America's Cup will be the most accessible to on-shore spectators in the event's history. The compact course stretches from inside the Golden Gate Bridge, past Alcatraz Island to Piers 27 and 29 along San Francisco's busy waterfront district, circling in front of the city's iconic Fisherman's Wharf area.
NBC Bay Area's Stephanie Chuang, Cheryl Hurd and Lori Preuitt contributed to this report, as well as the Associated Press.