Giant America's Cup catamaran capsizes during practice

Rough conditions in San Francisco Bay contribute to the crash, which damaged the composite wing sail.

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The Oracle Team USA 72-ft catamaran, being tested for the 34th America's Cup next year, capsized in San Francisco Bay on Oct. 16, according to published reports including Fox It carried 11 crewmen, a designer and two extra sailors. All were wearing crash helmets and life vests. The boat pitch-poled, or tumbled end over end, typically the worst type of wipeout for a catamaran. 

"The last thing I heard before we went over, and it became evident we were going to go over, was Jimmy yelling out, `Make sure you have an eye on your mates,' said Jono MacBeth, a grinder. Most of the crew rode out the capsize in the cockpit in one hull, but two of them had to cling to the net that forms a platform between the two hulls. Eventually, everyone had to jump into the cold water to get clear of the boat. 

It took several hours for the syndicate to bring the boat to shore after it was swept by a strong ebb tide more than four miles past the Golden Gate Bridge. The boat turned upside down and was towed that way back to the team's base at Pier 80.

The team said the boat appears to be in relatively good shape considering what it went through. The boat was lifted out of the water Wednesday afternoon and the shore crew was going to wheel it into a shed to assess the damage. Initial reports said the 131-ft composite wing sail was badly damaged but that it likely can be fixed. The syndicate was still recovering pieces of the high-tech wing on Wednesday.

Oracle Racing is owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, the head of Oracle Corp., one of only a handful of syndicates that have begun testing the 72-footers, which cost between $8 million and $10 million. This was the first capsize.

The crash happened as the crew was turning away from the wind, which was blowing at about 25 knots. Skipper Jimmy Spithill said the crew had performed the same maneuver four times earlier Tuesday. He said the crew will study video and photos of the crash to figure out what went wrong.

Oracle is building another 72-footer due to be launched early next year. Spithill said Tuesday's crash could keep the team from two-boat testing. Oracle has bounced back from mishaps before. In November 2009, while the syndicate was testing its giant trimaran off San Diego, the 200-foot carbon fiber mast came crashing down and snapped in two as it hit the rear beam.

Shortly after that, the team replaced its traditional soft-sail rigging with a radical, 223-ft wing sail which was the key factor in Oracle sailing's two-race sweep of Alinghi of Switzerland in February 2010 to bring the oldest trophy in sports to San Francisco.

In an effort to make the America's Cup more fan friendly, Oracle Racing ditched the sloops that had been used since 1992 and replaced them with faster catamarans, which fly a hull out as they speed through the waves.

The Louis Vuitton Cup for challengers will be held on San Francisco Bay from July 4 through Sept. 1, 2013. The winner takes on Oracle Racing for the America's Cup from Sept. 7-22.

Click here for video of the capsized yacht.