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British sailor dies during America's Cup practice

Published: Friday, May 10 2013 6:04 a.m. MDT

America's Cup champion Jimmy Spithill, left, of Oracle Racing looks over the remains of the team's capsized boat after it was lifted out of the water onto a pier at the team's headquarters in San Francisco, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012. The America's Cup champion is assessing the damage to the 72-foot (22-meter) catamaran, which capsized on San Francisco Bay and was swept by a strong current more than 4 miles (6 kilometers) past the Golden Gate Bridge on Tuesday before rescue boats could control it.  (Eric Risberg, Associated Press) America's Cup champion Jimmy Spithill, left, of Oracle Racing looks over the remains of the team's capsized boat after it was lifted out of the water onto a pier at the team's headquarters in San Francisco, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012. The America's Cup champion is assessing the damage to the 72-foot (22-meter) catamaran, which capsized on San Francisco Bay and was swept by a strong current more than 4 miles (6 kilometers) past the Golden Gate Bridge on Tuesday before rescue boats could control it. (Eric Risberg, Associated Press)

SAN FRANCISCO — Andrew "Bart" Simpson had already garnered an Olympic gold medal in sailing in 2008 and a silver at last year's games when Artemis Racing came calling with a chance to win yachting's top prize — the America's Cup.

"Moving the family to San Fran for 6 months is pretty hectic!!!," Simpson tweeted in March. "The cup should be fun though!!"

On Thursday, the British sailor drowned when Artemis' high-tech catamaran capsized and trapped him underwater for more than 10 minutes while on a practice run in the bay.

Simpson, 36, served as the Swedish team's strategist.

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

Oracle Racing 4 AC45, left, from the US, and Artemis Racing AC45, from Sweden, sail during the first day of racing at the America's Cup World Series Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011 in Cascais, near Lisbon. The event is a pre-cursor to the 2013 America's Cup in San Francisco and nine teams will race in the new AC45 sailing boats, the forerunner to the 72-foot catamarans that will be used in San Francisco. ( Francisco Seco, Associated Press) Oracle Racing 4 AC45, left, from the US, and Artemis Racing AC45, from Sweden, sail during the first day of racing at the America's Cup World Series Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011 in Cascais, near Lisbon. The event is a pre-cursor to the 2013 America's Cup in San Francisco and nine teams will race in the new AC45 sailing boats, the forerunner to the 72-foot catamarans that will be used in San Francisco. ( Francisco Seco, Associated Press)

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 child.

Artemis Racing said doctors "afloat" with the team and on shore were unable to revive Simpson after he was freed from the wreckage. The other sailor suffered minor injuries, and the rest of the crew of about a dozen people was accounted for and taken back to their dock in Alameda.

Officials said winds were blowing between 15 and 20 knots (17 to 23 mph) when the boat capsized. The National Weather Service later 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 near Treasure Island, which is bisected by the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge. The armada of rescue boats and helicopters were visible from the roadway.

America's Cup World series skippers Dean Barker, left, of Emirates Team New Zealand, Loick Peyron, second left background, of Energy Team, Russell Coutts, third left background, CEO of the Oracle Racing, Chris Draper, fourth left front, of Team Korea, James Spithfill, fourth right background, of Oracle Racing, Bertrand  Pace, third right front, of Aleph, Mitch Booth, second right background, of China Team and Terry Hutchinson, right, of Artemis Racing pose for a photograph with America's Cup trophy after a joint news conference Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011 in Cascais, near Lisbon.  ( Francisco Seco, Associated Press) America's Cup World series skippers Dean Barker, left, of Emirates Team New Zealand, Loick Peyron, second left background, of Energy Team, Russell Coutts, third left background, CEO of the Oracle Racing, Chris Draper, fourth left front, of Team Korea, James Spithfill, fourth right background, of Oracle Racing, Bertrand Pace, third right front, of Aleph, Mitch Booth, second right background, of China Team and Terry Hutchinson, right, of Artemis Racing pose for a photograph with America's Cup trophy after a joint news conference Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011 in Cascais, near Lisbon. ( Francisco Seco, Associated Press)

Simpson and the 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.

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.

No deaths have been recorded during the actual racing since its inception in 1851.

Simpson and his partner Iain Percy won an Olympic gold medal for England in 2008 in the Star class of sailing. The duo was expected to repeat in London in 2012 but was upset by a Swedish team and settled for silver.

Percy is Artemis' director and the boat's tactician. The team announced Feb. 23 that Simpson was joining Artemis to "provide weather and tactics support" to the crew.

In this photo taken Tuesday Oct. 16, 2012 and provided by Oracle Team USA, the Oracle Team USA AC72 catamaran is capsized on San Francisco Bay in San Francisco. The America's Cup champion syndicate is assessing the damage to its 72-foot (22-meter) catamaran, after it capsized and was swept by a strong current more than four miles (six kilometers) past the Golden Gate Bridge before rescue boats could control it.  (Oracle Team USA, Guilain Grenier) MANDATORY CREDIT, Associated Press) In this photo taken Tuesday Oct. 16, 2012 and provided by Oracle Team USA, the Oracle Team USA AC72 catamaran is capsized on San Francisco Bay in San Francisco. The America's Cup champion syndicate is assessing the damage to its 72-foot (22-meter) catamaran, after it capsized and was swept by a strong current more than four miles (six kilometers) past the Golden Gate Bridge before rescue boats could control it. (Oracle Team USA, Guilain Grenier) MANDATORY CREDIT, Associated Press)

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

The team has had technical problems, as well. Last fall, 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 also 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 four miles past the Golden Gate Bridge. No one was injured, but the rough waters destroyed the 131-foot wing sail, and the boat was sidelined until a new sail shipped from New Zealand was installed in February.

In this photo taken Tuesday Oct. 16, 2012 and provided by Oracle Team USA, crew members of the capsized Oracle Team USA AC72 boat are rescued after being swept past the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The America's Cup champion syndicate is assessing the damage to its 72-foot (22-meter) catamaran, after it capsized and was swept by a strong current more than four miles (six kilometers) past the Golden Gate Bridge before rescue boats could control it. (Oracle Team USA, Guilain Grenier) MANDATORY CREDIT, Associated Press) In this photo taken Tuesday Oct. 16, 2012 and provided by Oracle Team USA, crew members of the capsized Oracle Team USA AC72 boat are rescued after being swept past the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The America's Cup champion syndicate is assessing the damage to its 72-foot (22-meter) catamaran, after it capsized and was swept by a strong current more than four miles (six kilometers) past the Golden Gate Bridge before rescue boats could control it. (Oracle Team USA, Guilain Grenier) MANDATORY CREDIT, Associated Press)

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.

A tanker passes the yacht as it goes out to sea. A 72 foot Oracle vessel training for the America's Cup, capsized in San Francisco Bay Tuesday Oct. 16, 2012 and currents carried it out into the ocean. While some of the crew members were thrown into the water, all were accounted for and there are no serious injuries, according to a statement released by the syndicate.  (Brant Ward, San Francisco Chronicle, Associated Press) A tanker passes the yacht as it goes out to sea. A 72 foot Oracle vessel training for the America's Cup, capsized in San Francisco Bay Tuesday Oct. 16, 2012 and currents carried it out into the ocean. While some of the crew members were thrown into the water, all were accounted for and there are no serious injuries, according to a statement released by the syndicate. (Brant Ward, San Francisco Chronicle, Associated Press)

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 7-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.

Coast Guard Lt. Jeannie Crump said the agency did not know the extent of the damage to the Artemis boat. A commercial salvage boat would tow the vessel to Clipper Cove, between Yerba Buena Island and Treasure Island, Crump said.

A tanker passes the yacht as it goes out to sea. A 72 foot Oracle vessel training for the America's Cup, capsized in San Francisco Bay Tuesday Oct. 16, 2012 and currents carried it out into the ocean. While some of the crew members were thrown into the water, all were accounted for and there are no serious injuries, according to a statement released by the syndicate.  (Brant Ward, San Francisco Chronicle, Associated Press) A tanker passes the yacht as it goes out to sea. A 72 foot Oracle vessel training for the America's Cup, capsized in San Francisco Bay Tuesday Oct. 16, 2012 and currents carried it out into the ocean. While some of the crew members were thrown into the water, all were accounted for and there are no serious injuries, according to a statement released by the syndicate. (Brant Ward, San Francisco Chronicle, Associated Press)

She added that Coast Guard officials weren't sure what caused the boat to capsize. The Swedish team has two boats, she said.

Associated Press writers Terry Collins, Sudhin Thanawala and Garance Burke contributed to this report.

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