SAN FRANCISCO — This is supposed to be the most eye-popping America’s Cup ever.
Sleek, space-age catamarans capable of sailing three times the speed of the wind will race on San Francisco Bay against a stunning backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the Transamerica pyramid.
But then British sailor Andrew “Bart” Simpson was killed in a capsize on a training run that shattered Artemis Racing’s first 72-foot boat two months ago, and suddenly it didn’t seem quite as much fun anymore.
On Saturday, the regatta continued to bog down before it’s even started. The Italian syndicate Luna Rossa announced it won’t sail against Emirates Team New Zealand in the opening race of the Louis Vuitton Cup for challengers due to a rules spat.
That leaves Simpson’s teammates shaking their heads.
The Italians have a boat and won’t sail. Swedish-based Artemis desperately wants to sail, but its new boat is about two weeks from being ready for sea trials.
Artemis helmsman Nathan Outteridge sat through a news conference Friday and listened to Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena say then that the Italians were considering not sailing Sunday due to principles.
“Here we are as a team, busting to go sailing,” Outteridge said Saturday at the team’s base in a 110,000-square-foot former Navy hangar in Alameda. “All we want to do is to compete in this America’s Cup. I’ve dreamed this America’s Cup, thinking what a great concept they’re trying to achieve. It’s pretty obvious that they’ve over-stepped the mark with the equipment. It’s a little bit outrageous for the venue. But I think the concept is great. I think what they’re trying to do is awesome. Our whole sailing team, our whole team in general, just wants to be out there and go racing. And we’ve got an issue and we can’t get there. And then you see other teams who are really ready to go. They’ve got boats and then they’re refusing to go racing. It just is a little strange.
“If they could give us their boat I’m sure we’d be happy to go racing tomorrow,” he said.
Luna Rossa went for a test sail Saturday afternoon and later issued a brief statement saying it won’t race on Sunday.
Team New Zealand will have to sail the course Sunday to collect a point.
Luna Rossa and Team New Zealand have protested regatta director Iain Murray’s authority to change rules as part of his 37 safety recommendations made after Simpson died. The most contentious is a highly technical change to the rudders that Murray says will make the boats more stable.
While the opening race was scheduled for Sunday, the protest isn’t scheduled to be heard until Monday. Murray said the jury is from the International Sailing Federation and sets its own schedule. He said the jury members have been in town since Wednesday and there’s a chance the issue could be mediated before Sunday.
That apparently wasn’t enough to keep the Italians from saying they won’t race.
Simpson’s death and the ensuing police investigation delayed work on Artemis’ new boat for weeks. The crew has been sailing its 45-foot catamaran and got it foiling — riding only on hydrofoils with the hulls completely out of the water.
Artemis also built a device to test the system that raises and lowers the daggerboards, allowing the boat to foil. They believe they’ve debugged the system, which will save them time once they’re on the water.
Artemis has crews working nights, weekends and holidays to finish the new cat. It’s so determined that no task is beneath any of the sailors.
Iain Percy was preparing the surface of a daggerboard on Saturday, a mundane job for a guy who’s not only the skipper but has won two Olympic gold medals and one silver. He and Simpson sailed together at the Beijing and London Olympics, winning gold and silver.
“All hands to the deck,” Percy said.
A few yards away, builders were busy working on the platform, which includes twin blue hulls and the crossbeams.
On the other side of the huge building, workers were assembling sections of the 131-foot wing sail, which looks and performs like an airliner’s wing.
As a tribute to Simpson, a ribbon with the name Bart is just below the Swedish flag near the top of the wing sail.
Artemis CEO Paul Cayard, a veteran of the America’s Cup, Olympics and round-the-world racing, said Artemis is lucky to have Percy, Outteridge and Loick Peyron, a French multihull expert.
“We’re going to try to launch a brand new boat with a brand new wing in July in San Francisco,” Cayard said. “That’s a tall order for any team. I’ll put my hand up and say we’re really lucky on Artemis to have this talent here. Maybe we’re better suited than any other team to take it on in that short a period of time.”
Artemis is realistic about its chances. It will have the least amount of training on what Outteridge, a 27-year-old Australian who won a gold medal at the London Olympics, said is one of the hardest boats in the world to sail.
But the crew is determined to give it a go.
“I’ve lived enough life and sport and then sailing to know that things change,” Cayard said. “Life is never as you expect it to be. And we’ve seen more of that in this America’s Cup than any other America’s Cup. There could be more surprises to come. The guys in Las Vegas worry about the odds and, ‘Oh, what does it look like on paper?' We’re competitors, we’re here to race, our heads are focused on what we’re doing and we’re going to put it on the line every single day, whether it’s in the shed or on the water.”
The best scenario is that Artemis is ready to race by the start of the Louis Vuitton semifinals in early August.
Simpson’s death left many wondering if these boats are too big, too fast and too powerful.
The catamarans were the idea of defending America’s Cup champion Oracle Team USA, which is owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison. Ellison’s vision to update the stodgy old America’s Cup was for a class of boat that was TV- and fan-friendly and could be sailed close to shore instead of miles out at sea. Ellison originally hoped a dozen foreign challengers would compete, but only three made it this far.
Oracle will face the winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup in the 34th America’s Cup starting Sept. 7.
Was it a mistake going with the big catamarans?
“Let’s wait and see after September. We haven’t even raced the regatta yet,” said Russell Coutts, a four-time America’s Cup winner who’s the CEO of Oracle Team USA. “But, in all honesty, if we win, I think Larry’s plan is to go with something smaller in the future to allow more teams in the game.”
Despite Simpson’s death and other setbacks, the 72-foot catamarans are spectacular when they’re skimming across the tops of waves, riding only on a daggerboard in the leeward hull and the two rudders.
“When you’re foiling, the sensation is just like a turbo boost,” Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said.