To see our content at its best we recommend upgrading if you wish to continue using IE or using another browser such as Firefox, Safari or Google Chrome. Skipper James Spithill and tactician Tom Slingsby and the Oracle 17 crew were putting the American AC72 through its paces on San Francisco Bay in testing wind against tide conditions when the bows nose-dived and the boat pitch-poled soon after they bore away.
Breaking: Sweden’s Artemis Racing team crashed its AC72 in San Francisco Bay during a practice run on Thursday, May 9.
The AC72 is a catamaran: a scrim of netting stretched between twin knifelike hulls, each 72 feet long but only a few feet wide.
He sets a course along the northern shore of San Francisco, aiming for a spot halfway between Alcatraz and the bridge. By the time he gets past Alcatraz, Spithill and crew find themselves in massive chop, a product of the tide and wind working against each other. Turning from an upwind heading to a downwind heading is a basic maneuver in a conventional sailboat. The America won because its owners experimented with novel nautical technologies and spared no expense in building it (some things never change).
In the modern era of the Cup, post–World War II, the contest has become a little less of a free-for-all. But the most naked clash of egos and billfolds plays out in the no-limit contests, the so-called deed-of-gift races — anything-goes throwbacks to the old 19th-century rules, triggered when one billionaire decides that he no longer wants to play nice and rejects the limits imposed by a rule. Having won the Cup in the deed-of-gift match, Ellison decided that he wanted to have it both ways for the next contest, the party he would throw in 2013. In 2010, at the age of 30, Spithill became the youngest winning skipper in America’s Cup history.
In a nod to at least some tradition, everyone agreed to ban the motorized winches that were used in 2010.
The change of the spec from traditional soft-sailed monohulls to the new wingsailed twin hulls came with a media strategy explicitly designed to turn the America’s Cup into a real spectator sport. Still, though there are only four teams, racing the big AC72s promises to be far more exciting than even watching the World Series boats.
Splashing down face-first catapults the two hulls upright and momentarily triples the force of gravity. The Oracle race crew starts climbing down to the bottom-most cockpit, where it’s possible to crawl out.
It takes 10 minutes to get everyone off the boat and out of harm’s way, during which time the boat is slowly sinking.
Turner watches, helpless, as the submerged wing starts sawing against the main body of the boat.
That 20 years could have been spent practicing on the bay, engineering subtle mods, and otherwise moving toward the ultimate goal of winning the Cup. As to where his own responsibilities lie — as Spithill’s mentor, as Team Oracle CEO, as a champion of the AC72 — Coutts is more circumspect. It’s a question that the other teams — Luna Rossa, New Zealand, and Artemis — are asking themselves now. The real unknown, he says, is whether the damage caused by the Oracle crash was, as Coutts argues, an exception, a bad accident compounded by severe tides — or something closer to the norm when an AC72 capsizes in the rough waters of the bay.
AIRBUS, the world’s leading aircraft manufacturer and ORACLE TEAM USA, the defending champion of the America’s Cup, have forged a technology partnership. As Official Innovation Partner of ORACLE TEAM USA for the 35th America’s Cup, AIRBUS will share the know-how of its engineers and experts in fields such as aerodynamics, instrumentation and simulation, composites, structures, hydraulics and data analysis to work with the ORACLE TEAM USA design team.
For ORACLE TEAM USA skipper Jimmy Spithill, the partnership will allow his team to benefit from the skill-set of a leading engineering group with experience working on the cutting-edge of technology. In 2013, the team successfully defended its title in the AC72 class – wingsail powered catamarans that flew above the water on hydrofoils at over 50 mph (90kph). The next America’s Cup will be in 2017 and raced in the new AC62 class; a smaller, lighter and more finely engineered foiling catamaran than its predecessor that is expected to reach similar speeds. Maybe too big: His massive catamarans are so expensive that only four teams plan to compete this summer.
One crew member was reported killed in the accident, and the boat was severely damaged and may not be salvageable. On a brisk October afternoon on San Francisco Bay, Spithill is working with his team, practicing for the America’s Cup, the biggest prize in sailing.
A series of interconnected cockpits carved into the narrow hulls allows the crew to hunker down and grind two-man winches. The team keeps track of top speeds, and with each new day on the water they inch that number up.

In fact, in many ways, the race is perhaps best understood as a pissing contest between the world’s richest men. In the 19th century, a ship in private hands that could beat the best that the British had to offer was something extraordinary — an example of private money rivaling the power of a great nation. He wanted a return to a gentlemanly rule, but he also wanted to see the kind of balls-to-the-wall machine that he won with. So for the AC72, the designers started by estimating the maximum horsepower an athlete could exert over a 30-minute race and worked backward from there. In fact there are only three teams fighting for the right to challenge Oracle: Prada Luna Rossa, Artemis Racing, and Emirates Team New Zealand. In higher winds, the AC72s can hydrofoil — quite literally fly — thanks to trick daggerboards that lift both hulls out of the water. He realizes that if the worst were to happen, if the wing were to snap from the body of the boat, then the hulls would turn turtle — pinning all of them underwater and giving them only the pocket of air inside the overturned cockpits to breathe. From there, still a good 15 feet in the air, they jump into the cold bay, one by one, to be picked up by Ian Burns, the team’s design coordinator, who was following Spithill in one of four chase-boats. The plan is simple — just right the boat the way the crews righted the smaller AC45s: Attach a line between the high side of the craft and one of the chase boats, gun the throttle, pull the catamaran onto its side, then reorient and pull it upright. A barrel-chested tank of a man, Turner has been building boats professionally since leaving school to apprentice as a boatwright at 16, almost 40 years ago.
Pieces of the wing break off, to be chased down by the motorboats, but the great mass of it — several jagged pieces — is still connected to the hulls by hydraulic lines and control ropes. Just repairing the wing will cost well over $1 million (and perhaps as much as $2 million). It wasn’t just the lousy decision his young protege made in attempting a run in dangerous conditions. He argues that even though going out for a sail in such conditions was a rookie move, he could not have ordered Spithill to turn around, because overruling a skipper’s decision is tantamount to castration. Paul Cayard, CEO and tactician of Artemis Racing, has plenty of experience with the tricky conditions in San Francisco Bay.
Then Team Oracle wrecked one in San Francisco Bay, showing just how fragile the big boat, and the event itself, really is. How this will affect the team and the overall America’s Cup competition remains to be seen.
It’s nearly identical to the course he has already run four or five times today — with two subtle differences. The boat pitchpoles into an ass-over-teakettle capsize: bows down, rudders up — putting Team Oracle on a heading straight for the bottom of the bay. The names are familiar from the history books and nightly news: Forbes, Vanderbilt, Morgan, Lipton, Sopwith, Turner, Koch. If the AC72 were any larger, mere humans wouldn’t have the muscle to change the angle of the wing or to lift a secondary sail.
The teams would barnstorm around the world, racing shrunken versions of the AC72 — called AC45s — to drum up interest in the main event. And crowds are sure to throng to the shore, watching for AC72 crashes, like they did for the AC45 in the World Series.
No one is thrown overboard, but there is a tumble belowdecks as the 14 crewmates dive into the cockpits and fall on top of one another.
So, still wet from his swim, Spithill grabs a towrope from the deck of the chase boat, jumps back onto his AC72, and hauls himself up the netting to get to the highest point: the stern. Thanks to the win on the wingsailed trimaran in 2010, Oracle entered the contest as the only team with real wingsail experience. One of the AC72’s most outspoken critics is Scott MacLeod, managing director at WSM Communications, a sports-marketing business, who has represented corporate sponsors in every Cup going back to 1992.
Oracle Team USA epitomizes Dassault Systemes’ strategy of 3DEXPERIENCE By Derek“Why is Dassault Systemes involved in the America’s Cup?”I get this question a lot. Among the spoils for the winning team is the prerogative to rewrite the rules of the competition, including determining the shape and construction of the boats that will be used in the next go-round. Topping it all off is a rigid wing — 13 stories tall — that does double duty as both the boat’s engine and a billboard for the massive egos that animate the race. The stories are the stuff of yachting lore, told by the light of a campfire in the Bohemian Grove or swapped over Manhattans at the Knickerbocker Club on Fifth Avenue. The AC72 is not just an extreme sailing machine; it is the most extreme machine of its type possible. Last year in the gusty, choppy conditions typical of a San Francisco summer, three AC45s went daggerboards up over a four-day practice period.

Its performance has proven even more awesome than advertised, but the boats have turned out to be simply too expensive for many racing teams. After he arrives, he hears the sharp snap of the wing shearing at the foot of the mast, causing the rest of the boat to fall on top of itself, upside down. To entice the other teams to come out and play, Oracle agreed to limit practice time on the AC72 to a mere 30 days before January 31, 2013. Yet the possibility of someone pushing the boat too hard and capsizing was never addressed in the planning phases. Most of the corporate money that used to be in the event has fled: The AC72 is just too expensive.
So, I thought this week, as the America’s Cup is in full swing, would be a good time to answer it clearly. This is why today Spithill is sailing a $10 million AC72 — a radical new yacht for a radically reimagined yacht race.
Each team builds a slightly different variation of the AC72, but the general size and shape were devised by Ellison’s people at Team Oracle. The origin myth involves Queen Victoria watching a winner-take-all race around the Isle of Wight between a Yankee schooner named the America and 14 of the best boats in Britain — including the cream of the elite Royal Yacht Squadron. Once the line is attached, he crouches down in a cockpit and braces for impact as the speedboat hits the throttle. By 1 am, with currents finally in their favor, they are able to drag the craft back to Oracle headquarters at Pier 80 on San Francisco’s industrial waterfront — upside down, broken, and almost completely submerged.
It will take nearly four months of 80-hour weeks by a team of 24 staff boatbuilders (plus every odd rigger, sailmaker, and machinist that Turner can manage to shanghai) to fix the damage.
He founded the World Match Racing Tour, a yacht-racing tournament that was the de facto training ground for the America’s Cup before Ellison decided to abandon traditional monohulls. Twenty-eight-knot gusts push in through the Gate while water drains out of the bay at 5 to 6 knots. The sails have to be depowered, the daggerboards (retractable keels that drop from the center of each of the catamaran’s twin hulls) have to be adjusted, and the helmsman has to carve the tiller — all in split-second coordination.
When a lookout spied the America coming toward the finish line in first place, the Queen asked who was in second. The men who financed and sometimes even helmed these boats saw themselves as puffed-up proxies for their countries. While Oracle is in the shed fixing its AC72, the other teams will be out sailing, perfecting their systems and closing the experience gap. Taken together, the forces acting on the boat are the equivalent of 33-knot gusts: gale-force conditions. Ellison topped him (in every sense), building a carbon-fiber trimaran with a hard wing 223 feet high — so tall it couldn’t fit under the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s another climb and another towline secured, again to the high side of the boat. The new wing — which needs to be built in a factory in New Zealand — is a job three times as big.
Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts and the entire Oracle Team USA America’s Cup racing syndicate have changed the experience of the America’s Cup yacht racing sport completely. At about 40 miles per hour, one of the hulls catches an edge, twisting the frame of the boat into a nosedive. The contest was like nothing the sailing world had ever seen — a real-life Godzilla versus Mechagodzilla. The real loss: 40,000 person-hours, or the equivalent of 20 person-years of full-time labor. 3DEXPERIENCE gave us vision into the realities of sailing a boat that didn’t even exist yet. The best way for the crew to evaluate what will – and what won’t – work is to use 3DEXPERIENCE. The boat — with Spithill on board and dragging the speedboat like a loose anchor — gets swept out under the Golden Gate Bridge and into the truly rough water of the open Pacific. You just couldn’t get that kind of vision without these tools.But mostly what the attending yachting journalists wanted to hear about was the race, how it would work and what the sailor’s experience was.

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