After tragedy, Artemis could rebound at America's Cup
Out on Bermuda's Great Sound, on a fast catamaran named Magic Blue, Iain Percy and his mates with Artemis Racing are emerging as contenders to win the America's Cup while honoring the memory of Andrew ''Bart'' Simpson, who was killed in a training accident four years ago.
Artemis is keeping Simpson in mind while quickly finding the sea legs it didn't get the chance to develop in the 2013 regatta.
There's a ''Bart'' ribbon on the wing sail that helps powered the space-age catamaran and Simpson's family recently visited the team's base.
''It's nice to have that link,'' said team leader and tactician Iain Percy of Britain, who was a childhood friend of Simpson's before they sailed together in two Olympics, winning gold and silver medals. ''Overall I think it gives a good reminder there are more important things, but that at the same time we want to honor this team by having a win.''
Swedish-based Artemis has been sailing so well in practice races that some observers believe it has a strong chance to emerge from the challenger fleet and face two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA in the 35th America's Cup starting June 17.
Even getting to this point is a remarkable comeback from one of the worst moments in the long history of the America's Cup.
Simpson was killed on May 9, 2013, when Artemis' 72-foot catamaran broke apart on a training run on San Francisco Bay. Artemis chose to remain in the 34th America's Cup, although it missed much of the challenger trials in the 2 1/2 months it took to ready its new boat. When it made it to the starting line, Artemis was swept in four races by Italy's Luna Rossa.
''That was the first time I competed in a sporting competition not for sporting reasons,'' said Percy, who won an Olympic gold medal in 2000 before teaming with Simpson for the 2008 and 2012 Games. ''We did it because we were a team that had been through something horrific. We didn't want that to be the defining factor of the campaign. By working really hard to get a boat strong enough to get out there and compete, it was a degree of a new dawn for the team.''
Percy said his team displayed tenacity and resilience.
''You learn the people who have that. Equally, it was a unique situation where you didn't resent anyone who didn't have the resilience because it was difficult,'' Percy said. ''At that point it was about honoring Bart and closing America's Cup 34 in a new way.''
Artemis moved on by starting a new design team from scratch and hiring new sailors to go with holdovers such as skipper Nathan Outteridge, a two-time Olympic medalist from Australia.
Artemis recently sailed undefeated through a week of practice races, including beating two-time defending champion Oracle Team USA.
Percy isn't surprised Artemis is doing well.
''What we went through as a team made us stronger in our core values and teamwork because we've seen something that overshadows this,'' he said.
Magic Blue has been fast and the sailors are working to master the difficult maneuvers needed to get the 50-foot catamaran around the course.
Outteridge, an Olympic gold and silver medalist in the 49er class, has been nailing the starting sequence, Percy said, catching up to the skippers who gained experience in 2013, including Oracle's Jimmy Spithill, Land Rover BAR's Sir Ben Ainslie and SoftBank Team Japan's Dean Barker, who skippered hard-luck loser Emirates Team New Zealand in the last Cup.
Percy believes Artemis has the best grinders, the muscle men who turn the winches that power the hydraulic systems that control the wing sail and hydrofoils. When the cats reach a certain speed, they rise up on hydrofoils and zip above the waves.
Artemis and Oracle went through a 10-tack duel in one of the practice races, with both boats staying on foils through the sequence and Magic Blue defending the lead.
''People who are into the America's Cup are in for a treat,'' Percy said.
Spithill, a two-time Cup-winning skipper, is impressed.
''Look, I think in some ways it's not a surprise,'' Spithill said. ''They've hired good people and there's been a bit of change from the last campaign. They've got good sailors and great designers. They've got talent and resources. They're going to be up there. From what we've seen they're going to be a tough team.''
Outsiders couldn't possibly know what Artemis went through in 2013. But, said Spithill, ''Generally the good teams come together in tough moments.''
Percy said he's under no illusions because the practice racing has been close and there's still time for development before the challenger trials start on May 26.
But there is confidence.
''I think it's always easier to motivate yourself on a team when there is a genuine chance to win,'' he said.
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson