San Francisco’s two series of 2012 America’s Cup races were sailed in identical AC45s (standard 45-foot long catamarans with 70-foot masts and stiff wings), which tested the skill of all nations' crews. Next spring’s America's Cup World Series (ACWS) tour (Venice, April 16-21; Naples, May 14-19) will also be sailed in these AC45s.
However, next year's America's Cup Championship in San Francisco Bay will be sailed in AC72s—72-foot-long catamarans with 131-foot masts, huge wings and a crew of 11 men—almost double the length, slightly double the crew and quadruple the wind-capturing surface. These AC72s will each be customized by their teams with top-secret novel design technologies for competitive advantage.
According to ACWS rules, the teams could launch their AC72s beginning July 1. However, they can only test and practice on them for 30 days before racing them next summer. The Kiwis were first to launch their longboat. It displayed foils: a J-tip on their dagger boards. Their rudders had flukes for additional stability. These two designs allow the boat's hull to rise completely above the water and sail totally levitated upon its foils and flukes. Released from the drag of friction on the two hulls slicing through water, the boats gain an additional eight knots per hour. Now with air between the hulls and the water, the entire boat rides on these strong fins.
During the summer, we were told in briefings that the Kiwis had even mastered turning on their foils. Before the summer races, the USA team had practiced in San Francisco Bay in their first of two new 48 meter longboats. The second boat will be launched early next year. On its August 17 maiden voyage, Oracle broke one of the foils on its first boat, idling that boat for two weeks during repairs.
Remember that on October 6, during that penultimate day of racing, USA's Spithill capsized his Oracle AC45 catamaran head-over-heels, yet returned to win both the match and the fleet championships. It turns out this warning—how dangerous the sport was, and how much more dangerous it would become—was two weeks premature.

Oracle boat capsizes
On Tuesday, October 16 shortly after 3 p.m., on their eighth day of sailing their new boat, Oracle Team USA 17 was practicing turning maneuvers near Golden Gate Bridge when their catamaran nose-dived and pitch-poled; after digging its bow into the waves, it then heaved onto its wing. Some of the crew were ejected into the water, others were grabbed by companions and dangled in the nets.
Afterward, their onboard tactician, Tom Slingsby, nonchalantly confessed that the incident was frightening. "We didn’t really know what to expect with the new boat," he said. "When the nose went into the water, most of us hung on and then jumped off. We were unsure if the wing would snap, so we all climbed off the boat. Everyone had a few bumps and bruises, but nothing serious.”
Ultimately the whole crew safely ditched into the water and joined their support crew on the escort boats to avoid being trapped by the catamaran and debris.
See the video of the Oracle capsize and retrieval at
As night fell, the tides ripped apart the catamaran. Oracle’s boat and mast audibly crunched, cracked and broke apart; the airplane-sized wing was shattered. This happened during one of the strongest ebb tides of the year. The team’s chase boats escorting the catamaran could only accompany the flotsam as it drifted four miles out into the Pacific Ocean before they could haul the wreck back into the bay. Eighteen hours later the giant crane on the teams’ dock hauled the wreckage ashore to be examined. One local reporter compared it to Swedes in 1628 watching the Vasa sink in Stockholm’s harbor on its maiden voyage.
While the team is grateful no one was hurt, they must still review videos and data to examine all aspects of the design, technologies, manufacturing and sailing of this carbon-fiber craft before they can repair the boat. Spithill said, “The wing is badly damaged, but so far from what we have seen on the boat, it’s actually in relatively good shape." He added it will take at least six months to fashion a new sail, however. In this sport, money is no deterrence, but teams can build only two boats. Oracle’s second AC72 won’t be ready until next February. Spithill admitted they were pushing the limits of this extreme boat. Now they discovered one limit.

Artemis postpones launch
Artemis also had its boat awaiting launch from its Alameda hangar in San Francisco Bay. They were planning on christening and practicing on this new longboat later that same week. The Oracle incident made them wary as did the fact that they heard strange noises from the strain on the materials as they were testing it in the water. Artemis’ October 18 announcement simply stated: “In preparation for sailing the Artemis Racing AC72, the team was conducting valuable structural tests afloat earlier today when damage was incurred to the front beam of the catamaran.”
Their new catamaran was hauled out of the water onto the dock for their principal designer Juan Kouyoumidjian to evaluate the damage. They postponed the christening to examine their design and provide due diligence for the safety of the crew and the value of the craft.
They have discovered that the high-speed towing was at fault. Instead, they should have tested the catamaran counterweighed by its wing. It is not known whether they have incorporated foils and flukes on their boat. Like Spithill, Artemis’ CEO Paul Cayard stated, “All teams are going to face setbacks, but the determining factor in winning the championship will be the team that rebounds the best.”
In March, Artemis was legitimately testing its AC72 wing on a trimaran. Their pitch-pole capsize broke their mast and shattered their wing. They admitted then that they had to analyze all factors before repairing and sailing the craft again. So, they had reason to be cautious in testing their craft. One wonders to what degree teams can monitor all of this new, untested technology to reveal stress and strains on their boats, if not their crews. Both the Swedish and American teams are confident they will be able to safely resume their extreme sailing in greater safety. All teams are reviewing these incidents.
Meanwhile, news from Italy announced that Luna Rossa Challenge, the third team with two boats, successfully launched their new AC72 longboat in Auckland, New Zealand on Friday, October 26. They will practice during the southern summer with the Kiwis as well as cooperate with them in technology and training.
The lessons learned from launching these AC72s are that the championship is an extreme challenge for the best sailors in the fastest boats on the world’s best natural bay in a spectacular stadium urban setting. Speed is not the danger here, for many of these sailors in open ocean racing have reached this speed; rather it’s the stability and maneuverability of these new super-sized catamarans. It is an easy bet that there will be more capsized AC72s among at least the four teams that to date have signed up for the challenge: USA, Sweden, Italy and New Zealand.
And now for some perspective as I write this on Halloween, a day for black and orange. San Francisco loves sports, sportsmanship and teamwork; it plays hard and parties hard. Putting the tentative initial experiences with AC72s behind us, we all turned to baseball. The team that wouldn’t give up came home to a victory celebration, parade and program. The 2012 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants in one of their patented come-from-behind closes to the end of a season, never gave up as they defeated first the Cincinnati Reds in five games for their National League Division Series, after initially being down two games. Then they defeated the St. Louis Cardinals with decisive wins in four games to win the seven game series for the National League Championship. Finally they simply swept the daunting American League Champions in four straight games, clinching the series by striking out their triple crown batting champion, to become this year’s world champions of baseball—the second time in three years! Today more than one million fans, dressed in the team’s orange and black colors or in Halloween costumes, lined the parade route and City Hall pavilion to celebrate the home team.
When it’s a contest of champions, perseverance of each for all pays off. Like Cayard said: “The winning team is the one that rebounds the best.” The SF Giants are an inspiration and a model for competitors in The America’s Cup.

Ted Olsson
San Francisco