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louis vuitton malletier Artemis prepares for first race
SAN FRANCISCO Sweden’s Artemis Racing skipper Iain Percy and Andrew “Bart” Simpson were friends since they were 10. They won gold and silver medals sailing together in two Olympics. The sailing partners were so close, Percy served as best man in Simpson’s wedding. And after their America’s Cup boat capsized and Simpson drowned under the broken wreckage, Percy held his best friend’s body as emergency crews tried to revive him. At Simpson’s funeral in England, Percy helped carry his coffin. Now, nearly three months after the capsize crippled the team emotionally and nearly doomed its campaign, Percy and the rest of the Swedish team have mustered the courage and fortitude to join the America’s Cup as true competitors. On Tuesday, wind permitting, they will race for the first time in the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals, facing Italy’s Luna Rossa Challenge on San Francisco Bay. Whoever loses the best of seven series will be eliminated for good and never face defender Oracle Team USA, which will likely face Emirates Team New Zealand when the America’s Cup finals begin Sept. 7. Artemis sailors will wear ribbons with Simpson’s name on their sleeves and black metal beacons zipped into their sailing uniforms, newly invented devices that might have saved Simpson, who was hidden for 10 minutes beneath the boat’s floating wreckage. The team will be cautious, Percy said, and might refuse to race in winds higher than 18 knots (about 20 mph), which is about average for the bay at this time of year and roughly the same as were blowing the day the boat capsized. “We’re going to be out there to do the absolute best we can,” Percy said, but “we’ll never go to the point that we’ll take unnecessary risk.” The Artemis sailors, Percy said, “more than any of the teams here have a big awareness of the inherent dangers of these boats.” Even before the capsize, members of the Artemis team had criticized the hi tech catamarans required for all competitors as “overpowered,” with their 130 foot “fixed wing” sails making the twin hulled boats extremely fast but hard to handle. After the capsize, America’s Cup officials imposed new safety rules on all the competitors, including requiring stronger crash helmets and carrying crew locator devices that project beams of orange light. Artemis engineers redesigned their second boat, which was already under construction, to make sure it was stronger and safer, that if it did capsize, it wouldn’t break apart as the first one did. But it took a long time. The team missed the round robin portion of the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series. The boat didn’t launch until July 22. Because only three teams are competing in the Louis Vuitton Cup, race officials are allowing Artemis to proceed directly to the semifinals. Still, as hard as they will try,
Percy doesn’t believe his team has much chance of beating Luna Rossa. By race day Tuesday, Artemis will have practiced in its new boat only eight days. Luna Rossa has trained more than 80. Compared to the other teams, Artemis is “wobbly” on the water, Percy and helmsman Nathan Outteridge acknowledged Friday. And the boat is so fast, they find it difficult to keep it sailing within the strict boundaries of the race course. “We are at the steepest part of our learning curve,” Percy said. “Truth is, we’re a long way behind these other three teams.” Surely, though, they have come a long way. There was a time, early on, when Percy wasn’t sure he wanted to continue at all. It took coming back from a mournful week in England with Simpson’s family, including Simpson’s wife and two young sons, for him to realize that “we had our own family with Artemis Racing. I realized how important it was to stay together as a sailing team and complete what we had started.” He was the skipper after all, the leader of the team. He would rather be eliminated while competing this month, he said, than have ended the campaign with the tragedy in May. But after losing his best friend, it hasn’t been easy for him to find his competitive spirit, much less focus without thinking of his best buddy, whom he considered a “huge personality, a huge talent.” As he told the British media earlier this month, “My problem is I’m finding it hard to enjoy myself and when I do I feel bad about it because of Bart. But then I imagine what his reaction would be. ‘Just get on with it,’ he’d bark, with a smile. And although it’s still painful, that’s exactly what I have to do.” The day the team sailed the new boat for the first time was the most difficult. “To not go on the water with Andrew for the first time in about seven years was something very, very difficult,” Percy said in an interview Friday. “It upset me a lot. The guys knew that.” Still, he stood on the moorings at the team base in Alameda as the crew prepared to set sail and told them about how much his best friend would have loved this day. He told them he was proud of each of them, of how far they had come. Then they all got on the boat and performed a tricky maneuver sailing the boat on its new hydrofoils. As the wind picked up, the twin hulls lifted and the sailors sped above the water. To spectators on water and on shore,
they looked like they were flying.