Friday, May 10, 2013
Pushing The Envelope
The sad news that British sailor Andrew "Bart" Simpson was killed during practice for the Americas Cup came just a few days after I saw a report on either 60 Minutes: Sports or E:60, I can't remember which it was. Either way the report was on the US team that was using the same type of catamaran hydrofoil. Instead of a traditional 12 Meter yacht, teams are now using high tech catamarans that rise out of the water and ride solely on 3 tiny underwater blades. You can see them in the picture above.
While this setup greatly reduces drag and increases speed, it exponentially increases instability. Imagine using bicycle tires on your SUV. As long as everything is in your favor (wind/momentum/gravity) you can go really fast. As soon as you have to turn, or are hit with a crosswind it all goes to Hell in a handbasket in a split-second. Luckily that never happens sailing on the ocean. The USA Team has already had a similar accident in San Francisco Bay that injured multiple crew members, but fortunately everyone survived.
I'm all for advancing technology in a sport, but is this truly yacht racing? Remember the hubub in 1983 when the Australians developed a new type of winged keel? That's when they abandoned the 12 Meter rule and came up with the IACC Class that let this type boat compete.
While I'll never condemn anyone for advancing a form of racing, maybe they should reconsider the safety factor when allowing new vehicles to compete much like other forms of racing do. When you increase the speed you must increase the safety factors as well.