America’s Cup Races to Proceed as Committee Reviews Sailor Death

The America’s Cup yachting races will proceed as scheduled while officials await findings from a committee reviewing last week’s death of British sailor Andrew Simpson during Swedish team training on San Francisco Bay.

Tom Ehman, vice commodore of the Golden Gate Yacht Club that backs defending champion Oracle Team USA, said yesterday that all four teams are continuing their plans and preparations for the regatta, scheduled to start off San Francisco in July.

“We expect, yes, that all the teams will be racing,” Ehman said in a news conference. “The America’s Cup will go ahead this summer.”

The review into Simpson’s death will be led by Iain Murray, regatta director, and will include Sally Lindsay Honey, the two-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year who led last year’s review of the wreck that killed five sailors from the boat Low Speed Chase during the Full Crew Farallones Race out of San Francisco. Honey is the wife of Stan Honey, the cup’s technology director.

Artemis Racing’s accident was the second involving the new 72-foot (22 meter) boats being used in the cup. Powered by 131-foot carbon wing sails and capable of skimming above the water on hydrofoils at speeds exceeding 40 knots (46 mph, 74 kph), they are among the fastest sailboats ever built. Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team, the defending champion, destroyed a wing during a training accident in October.

Ellison Wins

Ellison, chief executive of Redwood City, California-based Oracle Corp., won the right to host this year’s America’s Cup by defeating a catamaran sailed by Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli’s Alinghi syndicate in a two-boat, best-of-three series off Valencia, Spain, using a 90-foot trimaran with a 223-foot wing sail. Ellison’s organizers then remade the cup for television audiences, using the high-speed, twin-hulled boats to replace traditional monohulls.

Murray yesterday held a meeting in San Francisco with all four teams competing in cup racing, including Oracle, Artemis, Emirates Team New Zealand and the Italian Luna Rossa Challenge, and said the review was critical to figuring out what happened.

“The teams are obviously subdued, there is an incredible amount of emotion, particularly from the sailors,” Murray said. “We need to look at what we’re doing.”

Artemis was practicing with the Oracle team in flat water and gusty conditions of 15 to 20 knots when the sailors attempted to turn away from the wind, “one of the more difficult maneuvers in sailing any fast boat,” Murray said at a news conference last week.

Simpson’s Death

Simpson, 36, died after he was trapped beneath a section of the capsized yacht, out of sight from other vessels and divers searching for him, according to Murray. CPR was performed on Simpson on a rescue boat and at the St. Francis Yacht Club, where the sailor was pronounced dead.

Simpson won a gold medal for Britain in the Star class at the 2008 Olympics as crew for Iain Percy, now Artemis’s sailing team director. Simpson joined Artemis in February.

Artemis will undertake its own review of the incident, according to a statement from Torbjorn Tornqvist, the team’s chairman.

Ehman said the teams, at yesterday’s meeting, didn’t consider canceling the races. He said the committee is an independent body, working for the regatta’s race management arm, which was established by the competitors.

“There was no discussion about calling the event off,” Ehman said. “We have every confidence that, when we get to the bottom of this and understand fully what happened, the regatta can and will go on.”

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