Offshore tragedy and AC musings—Sailing news from the U.S. and beyond

Billie (left) pictured at the start of 2014 Cape Town to Rio yacht race
Trevor Wilkins
Tragedy struck the Cape Town to Rio Race this week when a violent storm tore through the fleet on their first night at sea. According to reports, one sailor has died, several more crewmembers have been injured and plenty of equipment destroyed, forcing at least two boats to turn back. The fleet of 35 boats encountered 40-60-knot winds and seas exceeding 16 feet, which proved unmanageable for some boats.

The Bavaria 54 'Bille' had been struggling with their mainsail and had already turned back to shore when the storm struck. The yacht reportedly lost control in the big conditions and also lost its rig, which hurt four crewmembers. Tragically, Antonio Bartolomew later succumbed to his injuries; the others, including the owner, have been rescued from their stricken yacht and have received medical treatment.

Billie - Start of 2014 Cape Town to Rio yacht race
Trevor Wilkins

'All of us here aboard [the Volvo Open 70] 'Maserati' are greatly dismayed by the news,' reported skipper Giovanni Soldini, who is also sailing the race. 'Our thoughts are with all of 'Bille’s' crewmembers and their families.’

Still, the storm’s arrival on the fleet’s first night out does beg some questions about the seaworthiness of some of the competing vessels, especially since the storm arrived with plenty of warning. 'Given that the Cape2Rio fleet includes small cruising yachts ill-prepared to cope with such violent ocean storms, it might have been wiser to postpone the start,' said Soldini. 'But it’s always easy to evaluate these things in hindsight. On the other hand, this deep depression with winds of 50-60 knots was forecast well in advance of the start.'

Maserati and crew, Giovanni Soldini skipper
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Get the full story, inside this issue, and stay tuned to the website for more information from this tragedy, as it becomes known.

Meanwhile, in America’s Cup news, former Olympic medal winner and longtime Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) coach Rod Davis is still searching hard for the reasons that ETNZ ended up loosing the 34th America’s Cup, despite the fact that they at one point held what many Cup journalists (myself included) considered to be an insurmountable lead.

'It’s still hard to believe that we out-prepared Oracle by that much, ahead of this regatta, and lost the regatta,' said Davis. 'Normally when you out-prepare a team by that much in any sport, you come away with a victory. And it didn’t happen that way.'

Newport, 30/06/12 America's Cup Hall of fame Hanna and Rod Davis Photo: © Luna Rossa/Carlo Borlenghi
Luna Rossa/Studio Borlenghi ©

While Davis has undoubtedly amassed a fine collection of contributing factors for ETNZ’s unbelievable defeat, one reason stands considerably prouder than its cohorts. 'The major mistake that I see in the campaign was letting the world know we were foiling way too early,' said Davis. 'From a Sponsor, Press and Public point of view it was a coup, but for the big picture and winning the Cup, it was a liability'

While it’s no secret that Oracle Team USA was playing catch-up in the foiling department, literally deep into the finals, there’s also no question that the Americans learned a lot about making an AC72 fly by watching their antipodean rivals. Had ETNZ been able to keep this particular cat in its particular bag for even a month or two longer (back in 2012), there’s a reasonable chance that ETNZ’s level of preparation would have exceeded even Jimmy Spithill’s confidence in his Oracle Team USA crew.

While hindsight is always 20-20, there’s no question that the sailors and staff involved with ETNZ for AC34 will likely spend the rest of their lives pondering what they maybe could have done a bit differently during the final weeks of Cup racing. Inside this issue, don’t miss the great interview that Sail-World’s New Zealand editor, Richard Gladwell, put together with Davis, and stay tuned for the latest news from ETNZ.

29th Annual Rose Bowl Regatta - 29th Annual Rose Bowl Regatta
Rich Roberts

Also inside, be sure to get the latest news from the Rose Bowl Regatta, the Clipper Round the World Race and-for anyone who needs a shot of sunshine and saline-be sure to check out the great image gallery of the 12-foot skiffs in action on New Zealand Worser Bay. Enjoy!

May the four winds blow you safely home,