How a crash during practice might mean no more wingsails for the America’s Cup

For those of you unfamiliar with the series, the America’s cup is a boat race – one that a number of wealthy individuals sponsor. The most recent winner, Larry Ellison (also the CEO of Oracle), established the current catamaran plus wingsail (a rigid wing held upright to act as a sail) format as the “box” – the format that all boats currently competing must follow. The video below shows the new boat in action:

I say “new” because the last one crashed – in spectacular fashion – in San Francisco Bay during a practice session. From the article:

At about 40 miles per hour, one of the hulls catches an edge, twisting the frame of the boat into a nosedive. “The rudders lifted out of the water,” Spithill recalls.

It’s the sailing equivalent of the steering wheel coming off in his hands. Without steerage, there’s no way to keep the wind from pounding down the wing. 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 crash and the subsequent slow recovery of the boat meant a lot of damage to repair – and the fixed boat is only hitting the water now.

Although the Oracle team was originally the only team with wingsail experience, the crash (which occurred back in October) set the team back a great deal of practice time – practice which is key, considering the new format of the boats.

If Team Oracle loses the cup, the new winner will likely switch the format away from these ships. Indeed, even if Team Oracle wins, Ellison will likely cut the size of the boats:

“No matter who wins,” Coutts said, “they are definitely going to make changes: make the boat smaller, bring the team budgets down, stuff like that.” In other words, the CEO of Team Oracle now acknowledges that the AC72 is an overreach.

The final takeaway: It’s quite likely the last time you’ll see the gorgeous AC72 sailing, and probable that you won’t see any more wingsails – a real shame considering how fast these boats actually are.

The Boat That Could Sink the America’s Cup []



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