Emirates Team New Zealand capsized Tuesday at the start of an America's Cup challenger semifinal race against Britain on Bermuda's stormy Great Sound, throwing three crewmen into the water and extensively damaging its 50-foot catamaran.
Chase boats immediately converged on the catamaran and confirmed that all six crew members were accounted for, including three who remained in the cockpit in the starboard hull. Skipper Peter Burling said there no major injuries.
It was a harrowing end to a chaotic afternoon of racing in squalls and wind that sometimes reached 25 knots.
The Kiwi boat appeared to get on its hydrofoils too quickly as it made a difficult maneuver and lost control, with its bows plunging deep into the water and the boat flipping forward in what's called a pitch-pole, coming to rest with the top of the wing sail in the water. The catamaran eventually settled onto its side, resting on its port hull with three sailors suspended in the airborne starboard hull.
Helmsman Peter Burling said he, skipper and wing trimmer Glenn Ashby and Simon van Velthooven remained in the boat while Andy Maloney, Blair Tuke and Josh Junior were thrown into the water.
"I was very thankful when I was sitting up top to be able to look out the back and see all their heads above water and know they're all safe," said Burling, a 26-year-old Olympic gold and silver medalist. "That's definitely the first thing that goes through your mind when you have those incidents, to make sure the whole crew's safe."
Tuke, Maloney, Junior and Van Velthooven, an Olympic cycling medalist, are grinders nicknamed "cyclors" because they ride stationary bikes to provide power for the hydraulic systems used to trim the wing sail and operate the foils.
Burling said the capsize "was fully our error" as the boat accelerated and got high on its foils. He said the crew will review video to see what precisely went wrong.
He said it was too early to know if the shore team would be able to fix the boat in time for Wednesday's two scheduled races.
"As a group of New Zealanders, we are incredibly resilient," Burling said. "We'll bounce back from this. At some stage we'll get the boat back to 100 percent but we're still assessing damage."
The catamaran was righted and the damage appeared to be extensive, particularly to the wing sail. There could also be damage to the boat's electronic systems.
British skipper Ben Ainslie, who crossed the starting line ahead of New Zealand, pulled up as soon as he realized what happened. Ainslie radioed to his support boat to go back and help the Kiwis.
The race was black-flagged, with Ainslie's Land Rover BAR awarded the point. He trails the Kiwis 3-1 in the best-of-9 series.
Team New Zealand damaged its wing sail prior to the day's first race and went back to shore to swap it out. The Kiwis made it to the start line in time and passed Land Rover BAR late in the race to win by 2 minutes, 10 seconds.
Ainslie said it appeared Burling made a slight misjudgment on rake and angle. "But all of us sitting here aren't going to pass criticism," he said during a news conference. "These boats are incredibly hard to sail and these things can happen .Thank God, most importantly, everyone's fine on the boat. I'm sure they'll recover from that and be out there tomorrow or the next day."
Ainslie, one of the world's most accomplished sailors, said he's never experienced a day like Tuesday in his 30 years of competitive sailing.
While calling it "exhilarating," he likened it to skiing on ice. "You really just have to go for it and be as fast as you can and just no holds barred. If you start sort of slowing up, trying to play it safe, that's almost worse. When it works, when you're sailing these boats fast and well, it's incredibly rewarding. But as you saw today, there are lots of times when, for whatever reason, it's not possible."
The mayhem came a day after Ainslie was forced to retire from two races because of serious damage to his wing sail.
In the other semifinal, SoftBank Team Japan beat Sweden's Artemis Racing twice to take a 3-1 lead. Both boats sustained damage.
While fast and exciting, the foiling catamarans are almost always sailing on the edge. In the buildup to the 2013 America's Cup, British Olympic star Andrew "Bart" Simpson was killed when Artemis Racing's 72-foot catamaran broke apart during a test run on San Francisco Bay.
Sailors wear the latest in safety equipment, including crash helmets and life vests, and carry an oxygen supply and knives in case they need to cut themselves free.
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