The AC signal boat "Regardless" during more mundane tasks
Tuesdays events on the San Francisco Bay involving Oracle Racing’s AC 72 “ US 17” may have been a whole lot worse if it weren’t for some quick action and little luck. It just so happened that ACRM PRO John Craig was enjoying some time away from the demands of the job and watching the “Big Sail” from the deck at the St Francis and witnessed the capsize of 17 as well as bundle of others enjoying the afternoon. After a couple minutes John realize things were really going south and boarded a rib out to offer some supervision while the boat was still in the Bay, then switched to a more stable protector after US 17 passed out the Gate. Outside the gate as the big cat began to turtle and the mast finally gave way, it became very clear that the ribs on hand were not going to be sufficient, even without the mast attached. Divers were on scene to cut way the shrouds and stays and any parts which would weigh down the salvage effort or provide too much resistance. Flotation, already part of the crisis plan were in place to keep the hulls from sinking.
The smaller assist boat just cannot provide the power to tow or right the 72 in the massive ebb
By 6:00 PM the call was made to bring in the primary signal boat, “Regardless” to assist. The mother ship of all things ACWS, the Regardless was in Point Richmond getting ready for service at KKMI and had not yet been pulled. After a mad rush, with 2 crewmembers and a skipper, she arrived on the scene at 20:30, 4 miles off shore. According to John, the sea state was still “lumpy” and winds in the 15 knot range and it was dark. Using Regardless’s torque they began the slow process of dragging the stricken cat back towards the Gate. The slow ride back to Pier 80 took 5 hours before the boat was tied off at 01:30 AM.
John Craig was "Johnny On The Spot" during the recovery of US17, enabling the use
of the ACRM assets to assist. Without it, things could be much worse for Team Oracle Racing
In the aftermath, the obvious question was how better to protect from these things getting out of hand. “It was pretty obvious the smaller support ribs just did not have the torque needed to pull the 72’ against the current or upright her” John indicated “We are working with the teams to facilitate that”. Whether that means the teams pooling together funds and spending additional monies to purchase or lease a vessel big enough or strong enough to be at the ready during practices to render assistance is in the thought train. When in town, the options might be for the Regardless to be at the ready.
Talk of a quick release for the wing, to minimize the damage in event of another situation like Tuesday. The panels in the wing will float as witnessed by Tuesday’s mishap, but all the wings controls lead through the wing base, which creates a whole new problem. Additionally how much additional damage which might occur transporting the wing by dragging through the water back to safety is a deep concern.
Tuesday's major ebb was a biggy, but certainly not the worst teams will face during training and or races on San Francisco Bay, and while the wind was fresh, it was not as fresh as a lot of days we can expect to see on spring clearing winds or summer thermals. John mentioned they did relook at the event dates for 2013, and they are mostly devoid of major ebb variations, so that’s a good thing.
The teams have long held a crisis plan for the AC45’s for dealing with everything from a man overboard, a capsize a major medical emergency, and for the most part they can upright an AC45 in their sleep. The AC72 is an entirely whole new level of challenge. Add San Francisco Bays notorious winds, rugged shorelines and deceptively strong currents, the challenge to survive long enough to make it to the Finals in September just adds to the mix. Keeping the boat and wing intact is just as key as tactics and foiling ability. As Tom Slingsby, tactician of Oracle Racing said “When you’re pushing the limits, you find that limit and then you back off. This is the first time a boat this big has capsized in this sort of format. I’m sure all the other teams will watch this and see where the limits are.”
One additional note, while Team Oracle has collected a large selection of their wing, its still not clear that they have sufficient pieces to qualify for the rebuild wing clause, allowing them to reconstruct damage wing without penalty, if you have come across any sections, they would appreciate you contacting them.