Safety fears raised ahead of next America's Cup

 

The flying machines which are the weapon of choice for the next America’s Cup, one of the sporting world’s more quirky events, are throwing up a mass of problems for sailors learning to control the new beasts and, compounded by rules imposed by the American defender, raising fears for the safety of the people racing them.

Millions of dollars are being thrown at winning, or retaining, what claims to be the oldest international trophy in international sport. Its origins go back to 1851 and a race around the Isle of Wight. It is unlikely to cost the teams, Oracle Team USA, Emirates Team New Zealand, Italy’s Luna Rossa, Sweden’s Artemis, and, though it has yet to confirm it has the money, Team Korea, less than half a billion dollars between them. Add to that the whole cost of staging and televising the event.

Until the legally enforced Cup 33 went the way of the San Francisco-based Oracle Racing when they beat the Swiss holder Alinghi in 2010 in giant multihulls, the America’s Cup has always been contested in monohulls.

Cup 34 will be staged in 72-foot, wing-powered catamarans, starting with the Louis Vuitton Cup eliminator in July next year, with the winner squaring up against Oracle in September. But one of the rules imposed by Oracle was that only 30 days of testing was allowed in the new boats until 31 January next year.

In theory this was to reduce costs, though spending is rampant in other areas. One of the many changes in the protocol format along the way was to increase the size of the wing and so make available more power than would ever normally be usable. Oracle boss Russell Coutts has since quietly acknowledged that 52-footers would have been sufficient.

The race track on San Francisco Bay is close to the shore and restricted. But, as one insurance expert told The Independent: “You could hardly find a better track for a television spectacular and you could hardly find a worse track if California lawyers ever have the chance to sink their teeth into some injury compensation claims.”

Unlike in aviation, there is a very limited database about the hydrofoils on which these boats will sit, at 40-plus knots. Much of what there is concerns straight line boats seeking speed records, not boats which have to turn corners and race at close quarters.

One man faced with the “challenge” of delivering one of these boats with a combination of a speed edge and a reasonable expectation of reliability is Juan Kouyoumdjian, known always as Juan K, the Argentinian design chief of the Artemis syndicate, backed by the oil billionaire Torbjorn Tornqvist.

“We could use every hour and every bit of daylight and it still would not be enough,” says Juan K. But, curiously, he adds the view that changing the rules and abandoning the restrictions would not necessarily be agreed by the challengers. “It would benefit Oracle most due to their two-boat testing and now even TNZ and LR since the jury allowed them to observe and exchange design and performance information,” he says.

Words which everyone hopes will not be true prophetically come from the man who will run the races, the Australian Iain Murray. “There are going to be injuries,” he said at the start of the 2011-12 season. Now the crews wear padding and crash helmets in case, as has happened, they are catapulted through carbon fibre wings which, as they break, can shatter into deadly shards.

Meanwhile, Juan K’s team is working flat out having seen a trial wing crumple and knowing that the clock is ticking ever more loudly. The Kiwis, whom Juan K sees as current favourites, have looked impressive on their home waters and they will be joined soon by the Italians, backed by Patrizio Bertelli and his luxury goods house, Prada.

The sanction of their co-operative deal by an international jury is described by Juan K as “a bloody ridiculous decision”, but, now, Artemis could train alongside Oracle in San Francisco entirely legally. Scheming and bickering has been part of this super-rich confrontation for 161 years. It will not stop now. Even the threat to life and limb is not new, just the level.       

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent