The Boat That Could Sink the Americas Cup

Posted: May 10, 2013

By: Adam Fisher [Wired]

Breaking: Sweden’s Artemis Racing team crashed its AC72 in San Francisco Bay during a practice run on Thursday, May 9. One crew member was reported killed in the accident, and the boat was severely damaged and may not be salvageable. How this will affect the team and the overall America’s Cup competition remains to be seen.

Ten minutes before the crash, Jimmy Spithill is in his element. 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. He won the event in 2010 for Larry Ellison’s Team Oracle, becoming, at 30, the youngest winning skipper in the event’s 162-year history. 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. This is why today Spithill is sailing a $10 million AC72 — a radical new yacht for a radically reimagined yacht race.

The AC72 is a catamaran: a scrim of netting stretched between twin knifelike hulls, each 72 feet long but only a few feet wide. A series of interconnected cockpits carved into the narrow hulls allows the crew to hunker down and grind two-man winches. Connecting the two blades are girderlike crossbeams. 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. 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.

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