America’s Cup: The Story Behind the Accident

Published on October 25th, 2015

Leave it to the America’s Cup to keep coming up with storybook endings.

When the America’s Cup World Series visited Portsmouth and Gothenberg, Artemis Racing got pummeled, finishing last and next to last. More was expected from this team, so full of talent and experience from the previous America’s Cup.

For them then to win in Bermuda, it is the kind of turn around that makes for a great story. But this team didn’t stop there. They overcame disaster too. The story gets better.

Just moments before the starting gun fired for a race, the team ducked behind the Japanese team, and as helm Nathan Outteridge turned up towards the line, he was confronted with an Umpire boat heading directly towards him. The closing speed would have been in excess of 25 knots.

“At that point we couldn’t go anywhere,” Outteridge explained. “He went straight between our bows but thankfully nobody was hurt. There was a serious amount of damage to our boat though.”

Regatta Director Iain Murray made the call to abandon the race, and focused resources to insure there were no injuries. This is standard procedure, according to Murray.

“The teams know that if we believe there to be a serious accident, we will abandon a race and proceed with our medical protocol,” explains Murray. “Since this was at the beginning of the race, there would be no prejudice by taking the action, and I felt it was prudent to pause and assess the situation.”

Murray postponed the re-start for 10 minutes, then extended that another 2 minutes when he determined the team would be able to race. “It looked like they were nearly clean, so I used my discretion,” Murray said. “However, I can’t lose sight of the event, and must consider all the teams for fair racing.” The Artemis Racing squad stripped off the broken bowsprit and the now useless Code Zero sail in record time. ”

What also factors in is the time window, which is structured around the television broadcast. “We operate within a 90 minute window,” notes Murray. “Between the opening segment, commercials, and wrap-up, we must fit in the races. Since the format moved to catamarans, starting and finishing on time is critical.”

Amazingly, Artemis Racing won the race in which they were damaged, but they were now sailing an illegal boat. The class rules require the bowsprit as both equipment and weight. Why no protest? Because within the America’s Cup edition of the Racing Rules of Sailing, there is a provision, at the discretion of the measurers, to allow a team to compete when not in compliance with the class rules.

While the incident was regrettable, it was not without precedent. Nearly every sport with umpires or referees has bouts of interference with players. But in a boat race, when the collision can eliminate a team, it is grounds for concern.

“There were a number of things that in hindsight, we’d like to have changed,” admitted Murray. “It’s a work in progress, and we are constantly assessing and refining systems. We are always seeking to make improvements, and this incident will be among them. At least no one was hurt.”

And so closes another chapter. What will they think of next?


NOTE: Yes, we know, the NBC headline and description are a mess.

The ISAF RACING RULES of SAILING – AMERICA’S CUP EDITION (Version 2.5)
78.1 Competitors shall ensure that the yacht is maintained to comply with the class rule and that her measurement certificate, if any, remains valid.

78.2 When the Measurement Committee decides a yacht does not comply with the class rules in a race, it shall report the matter to the Regatta Director who shall protest the yacht, unless the Measurement Committee and Regatta Director are satisfied the noncompliance was caused by damage or normal wear, and the non-compliance does not improve the performance of the yacht. If this is the decision, the yacht shall not race again until the yacht is brought back into compliance with the class rule unless there is or has been no reasonable opportunity to do so.

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