Swedish challenger launches new America's Cup yacht with tribute to dead crewmate
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The Swedish team vying for the America's Cup launched its second 72-foot catamaran on Monday, 2-1/2 months after its first twin-hulled racing yacht capsized, killing a crew member and grounding the challenge by Artemis Racing.
Team owner Torbjörn Törnqvist, speaking at a private christening ceremony in the San Francisco suburb of Alameda, called the yacht's first sail "the culmination of a heroic effort to put together this beautiful boat."
Its 131-foot (40-metre) wing sail displays a tribute blue ribbon to Olympic gold medalist Andrew Simpson. The 36-year-old British father of two young children was trapped underwater after his team's high-tech catamaran capsized and broke apart on May 9.
"I don't think anyone fully appreciates the hill Artemis Racing has climbed to get to this point," Regatta Director Iain Murray said. "They've worked tirelessly."
The fatal accident forced Artemis to sit out the first round of competition for the world's oldest sporting trophy. Artemis' absence has thus far left New Zealand and Italy to compete among themselves for the Louis Vuitton Cup and the right to challenge the United States for the grand prize.
Billionaire Larry Ellison and his team, Oracle Team USA, won the America's Cup in 2010 and the right to choose the windy, and some say hazardous, San Francisco Bay as a venue for the current competition. The Louis Vuitton Cup winner will earn the right to challenge Oracle in races set to begin September 7.
Artemis does not expect to be able to race until the semifinals, which begin August 6. But a convoluted squabble over safety rules could still disqualify the Swedish team or virtually cripple its chances of being a serious contender.
Artemis CEO Paul Cayard has declined repeated requests for comment. Jennifer McHugh, his spokeswoman, said he is "focused on getting the boat in the water and sailing."
The wing sail of Artemis' new boat is largely transparent so missing crew can be found quickly in case of another capsize. Simpson was trapped beneath the catamaran for 10 to 15 minutes before rescuers could locate him and pull him out of the water, the San Francisco Fire Department reported.
A San Francisco police investigation and a medical examiner's report on the death of the two-time Olympian remain incomplete.
The accident highlighted safety concerns about the high-tech yachts that lift out of the water on hydrofoils and sail at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour (80 km per hour).
Simpson himself acknowledged worries about the new generation of catamarans. In September, before he joined the Artemis Racing team, he sent his 3,000-plus Twitter followers a link to an article in the British newspaper The Independent about America's Cup hazards.
The article began: "The flying machines which are the weapon of choice for the next America's Cup, one of the sporting world's more quirky events, are throwing up a mass of problems for sailors learning to control the new beasts ... raising fears for the safety of the people racing them."
(Reporting by Ronnie Cohen; Editing by Eric Beech)