(Reuters) - Emirates Team New Zealand capsized in high winds on Tuesday, catapulting some of the crew into the water and handing rivals Britain’s Land Rover BAR their first win of the America’s Cup semi-final.
Other New Zealand crew members, including helmsman Peter Burling, were left suspended in the upturned hull of their 50-foot catamaran until support boats could right the craft.
The boat showed signs of damage from the high-speed impact with the waters of Bermuda’s Great Sound, where winds were gusting near the maximum allowed for America’s Cup racing.
Burling said the boat had “sustained quite a bit of damage” in the capsize, but none of the crew was badly injured.
“We’ll bounce back from this but right now we are still assessing the damage,” Burling said, adding that he could not say whether the boat would be back on the water on Wednesday.
“We were really thankful that no-one was hurt,” he said in a televised news briefing after the race.
“We’ve all got a few cuts and bruises, but nothing major.”
British skipper Ben Ainslie likened controlling the foiling catamarans in such conditions to “skiing on ice”, adding that he had to sail the boat at maximum speed and hope for the best.
“These boats are incredibly hard to sail,” Ainslie told a televised news briefing after the race, adding that New Zealand appeared to have made a slight misjudgement.
Nathan Outteridge, skipper of Sweden’s Artemis Racing which is competing in the other challenger semi-final against SoftBank Team Japan, said his crew had also had “plenty of close moments” as the catamarans reached speeds nearing 50 knots (92.6 kilometres per hour), flying above the waves on their foils.
Safety has been a major concern of all the crews and the organisers since the death of British sailor Andrew “Bart” Simpson in San Francisco ahead of the 2013 America’s Cup.
Sailors have helmets, buoyancy aids, oxygen tanks and knives in case their boats get into trouble.
Ainslie and Iain Percy, the team manager and tactician on Artemis Racing, were best friends with Simpson and helped set up a charity to promote sailing for young people after his death.
Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor, got the better of Burling at the start, ensuring a clean run over the line.
But when the New Zealand crew set off in pursuit, they lost control of their catamaran, immersing its hulls in the water and tipping their towering “wing” sail over them as the boat “pitch-poled” forwards and came to a startling halt.
Support boats quickly surrounded the stricken catamaran and the organisers could be heard saying that the crew were all accounted for as some of the New Zealand team swam away.
The capsize meant Land Rover BAR won the race, giving them some hope of recouping some of their deficit against New Zealand who are now leading 3-1 in the best-of-nine race series.
The British crew had suffered equipment failure on Monday when part of their wing controls broke, meaning they had to forfeit two races to their New Zealand opponents.
In the day’s other semi-final, SoftBank Team Japan, skippered by New Zealander Dean Barker, took a 3-1 lead over Artemis Racing after winning both their races.
Artemis Racing struggled to control their boat, at one point in their second race sailing off the course completely and incurring a penalty from which they could not recover.
The winners of the two semi-finals will go head-to-head to decide who gets to challenge holders Oracle Team USA for the America’s Cup itself, starting on June 17.
Reporting by Alexander Smith in London; Editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris