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British Olympic sailor dies after catamaran capsizes


British yacht-racing champion Andrew Simpson died on Thursday after his catamaran capsized and trapped him underwater while training for the America’s Cup in San Francisco Bay, the Artemis Racing team said.


British Olympic gold medalist Andrew “Bart” Simpson” died when the Swedish catamaran training for the America’s Cup capsized in San Francisco Bay on Thursday.

Artemis Racing said Simpson, their strategist, died after the boat’s platform trapped him underwater for about 10 minutes around 1 p.m. local time.

Artemis said doctors “afloat” with the team and on shore couldn’t revive Simpson after he was freed from the wreckage.

“The entire Artemis team is devastated by what happened,” CEO Paul Canyard said in a statement on the team’s website. “Our heartfelt condolences are with Andrew’s wife and family.”

Cayard didn’t take questions during a brief news conference Thursday evening and didn’t return telephone calls.

British newspapers reported that Simpson is survived by a wife and an infant.

The 36-year-old Simpson and his partner Iain Percy won the Olympic Star class in 2008 and the silver medal at last year’s London Games. He also won the world title in 2010.

Percy is Artemis’ director and the boat’s tactician. Artemis announced on Feb. 23 that Simpson was joining the team to “provide weather and tactics support” to the crew.

Officials said winds were blowing between 15 and 20 knots when the boat capsized. The National Weather Service later in the day issued a small-craft advisory, warning inexperienced mariners to stay off the bay and indicating winds of between 21 knots and 33 knots.

The Artemis boat flipped in winds of about 20 knots near Treasure Island, which is bisected by the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge. The armada of rescue boats and helicopters were visible from the bridge.

Simpson and an unidentified injured sailor were brought to shore at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, where paramedics performed CPR on Simpson. He was pronounced dead a short time later.

The other sailor suffered minor injuries, and the rest of the 11-man crew was accounted for and taken back to their dock in Alameda in a boat operated by Oracle Racing, the America’s Cup holder.

The boat that capsized is a specially built 72-foot (22-meter) catamaran that can reach speeds of 45 mph (72 kph).

Coast Guard Lt. Jeannie Crump said it did not know the extent of the damage to the boat, but she added a commercial salvage boat was on scene to tow the catamaran to Clipper Cove.

She added that Coast Guard officials weren’t sure what caused the catamaran to capsize.

Artemis Racing, representing the Royal Swedish Yacht Club, is the challenger of record for the cup.

The Louis Vuitton Cup for challengers starts on July 4, with the winner facing Oracle in the 34th America’s Cup from Sept. 7.

This is the second time a sailor has died during training for the America’s Cup.

In 1999, Martin Wizner of the Spanish Challenge died almost instantly when he was hit in the head by a broken piece of equipment.

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

Artemis has had technical problems, as well. Last autumn, 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 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 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) past the Golden Gate Bridge. No one was injured, but the rough waters destroyed the 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 seven-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.

Because the boats are cutting-edge, sailors wear crash helmets and life vests.


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