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America's Cup death: Super-fast boat sparks safety concerns

The death of a British Olympic gold medalist during an America's Cup sailing practice on Thursday has prompted new concerns about the high-speed catamaran that capsized in the San Francisco Bay.

Andrew "Bart" Simpson was part of an 11-man crew aboard Artemis Racing's AC72 vessel when the boat flipped northwest of Treasure Island about 1 p.m., officials said. Simpson, 36, served as the Swedish team's strategist.

An America's Cup chase boat pulled the sailors from the water, but Simpson was trapped under the 72-foot catamaran for up to 15 minutes before he was reached, San Francisco Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge said.

The incident comes about seven months after a similar yacht owned by the Oracle USA team capsized in October, also while training in San Francisco Bay. No injuries were reported, but the vessel was damaged.

The AC72 is capable of speeds in excess of twice the windspeed.

According to the America's Cup website, the AC72 is "thrilling fans as it challenges the very best sailors in the world, pushing them to their limits ...  and beyond."

"The AC72 demands more of the crews than ever before. Athleticism is now a critical requirement for all crew members. The smaller crew size of 11 means every role on the boat is crucial to success, and each crew member will face physical demands equal to the toughest sports in the world."

Some sailors have expressed concerns about the dangers of the new, fast catamarans.

Max Sirena, skipper of America's Cup challenger Luna Rossa, told the New York Times on Thursday, “When Oracle crashed, I said, 'That will not be the only one; this will happen again.' And now it’s happened again. These are dangerous boats.”

But he added, “The boat is basically too powerful. At the same time, this is our sport. This is a risk we take.”

Artemis Racing Chief Executive Paul Cayard said Thursday that the team has "a lot to deal with in the next few days."

“The boat’s under control, but that’s not the first of our concerns," he said. "We’re focused on the people. That’s what we’re working with and on and we’ll give you more information when we’re able to.”

Simpson won a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics and a gold medal in Beijing in 2008. He joined the Artemis team in late February, where he again competed with childhood friend and Olympic partner Iain Percy, the skipper of the Swedish team.

Artemis is one of three teams of top sailors competing for the chance to challenge Oracle Team USA in the 34th America's Cup, set for this summer in San Francisco.

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Twitter: @katemather

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