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British sailor dies during America's Cup practice

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 10, 2013 at 1:17 pm •  Published: May 10, 2013
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Simpson and his partner Iain Percy won an Olympic gold medal for England in 2008 in the Star class of sailing. The duo was expected to repeat in London in 2012 but was upset by a Swedish team and settled for silver.

Percy is Artemis' director and the boat's tactician. The team announced Feb. 23 that Simpson was joining Artemis to "provide weather and tactics support" to the crew.

Artemis Racing has had its share of upheaval in the buildup to the 34th America's Cup. Late last year, skipper Terry Huthinson of Annapolis, Md., was released. He was replaced by Nathan Outteridge of Australia, who won a gold medal at the London Olympics.

The team has had technical problems, as well. Last fall, Artemis said the front beam of its AC72 catamaran was damaged during structural tests, delaying the boat's christening. A year ago, Artemis' AC72 wing sail sustained serious damage while it was being tested on a modified trimaran in Valencia, Spain.

This also wasn't the first America's Cup boat to capsize on the hard-blowing San Francisco Bay. Oracle's $10 million boat capsized in 25-knot winds in October, and strong tides swept it four miles past the Golden Gate Bridge. No one was injured, but the rough waters destroyed the 131-foot wing sail, and the boat was sidelined until a new sail shipped from New Zealand was installed in February.

Stephen Barclay, CEO of the America's Cup Event Authority, said officials were investigating Thursday's accident. He said it was unclear what effect the death will have on the America' Cup races, which are scheduled to run from July to September.

It was too soon to answer questions about the safety of the high-tech boats on the San Francisco Bay, Barclay said.

"Obviously a catamaran is more prone to capsizing than a mono-hull," he said. "Whether boats are safe or unsafe, we're not going to speculate on those things."

In addition to sailors wearing crash helmets and life vests, chase boats carry doctors and divers, Barclay said.

"There are lots of precautions that are taken, and some of those are as a result of Oracle's mishap last year," he said.

The boats participating in the latest America's Cup more resemble a space craft than the traditional sloops that historically competed for the trophy.

Financed by billionaire Larry Ellison, Oracle Team USA won the 2010 cup and made several changes to the races this year in an attempt to make the staid competition more fan- and TV-friendly.

While much faster and more exciting than the sloops, the catamarans have proved hard to handle. The wing sail looks and acts like an airplane wing, improving the yacht's speed and maneuverability. The 7-ton boat's hulls are lifted out of the water and it skims along the waves on "foils," reducing the drag on the boat and increasing speed dramatically.

Coast Guard Lt. Jeannie Crump said the agency did not know the extent of the damage to the Artemis boat. A commercial salvage boat would tow the vessel to Clipper Cove, between Yerba Buena Island and Treasure Island, Crump said.

Crump added that Coast Guard officials weren't sure what caused the boat to capsize. The Swedish team has two boats, she said.

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Associated Press writers Terry Collins, Sudhin Thanawala and Garance Burke contributed to this report.