America's Cup CEO Stephen Barclay on the Race's Competition and Tragedy

The America’s Cup CEO on the push toward lighter and faster sailboats—and a death at sea
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell

The America’s Cup is the Super Bowl of the sailing world. We have a preseason, the America’s Cup World Series, and playoffs, the Louis Vuitton Cup. If you measure the audience in terms of ratings and spectators, these events stand head and shoulders above anything else in sailing. My role as the chief executive is to conduct those events. The Cup is a medium-size business, employing over 100 people, with tens of millions of dollars a year in revenues and expenses. It’s a bit of a handful to manage.

In recent years, we’ve wanted to put the Cup on a sounder financial footing and make it accessible to people other than the very, very wealthy. To do that, we needed to bring the race in from 10 miles offshore to where people can see it. For the sake of television, the races had to start on time. You can’t have this huge buildup to a race and then have the television saying, “delayed due to lack of wind,” which is a huge problem in sailing.

The answer to these issues was to use a catamaran instead of the monohull boats we’ve traditionally used in the Cup. Catamarans are very fast, can sail in very light or strong winds, and get so close to the shore that fans can hear the sailors talking. But sailing can be dangerous. What we have is the best sailors in the world, and the best designers in the world, pushing the boundaries. Like in all sports, when you put the best out there—be it race cars or skiing, or the Knicks—the best want to win. In those situations, sometimes things go very wrong. We had one of those situations [on May 9].

When the Artemis Racing boat capsized in San Francisco Bay, I heard about the accident about 10 minutes after it happened. I was immediately shocked. We heard one of the sailors was missing—followed by elation that they’d found him. That elation rapidly drained away as I became aware he was undergoing CPR. Thirty minutes later, Andrew Simpson (above, center, with Olympic teammate Iain Percy) was pronounced dead. It was an enormous loss. The America’s Cup is like a family. Like any family, they bicker and quarrel at times. But everyone is just tragically feeling the loss.

I think it’s far too raw to be able to know the impact of this tragedy on the event and on the boats. I don’t want to prejudge anything. Andrew was a huge competitor. He had an Olympic gold medal. He had the brains to go with the brawn. He will help us come up with an answer. — As told to Aaron Kuriloff 

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