America's Cup yacht capsizes in practice; Oracle crew member falls through boat's sail 

They promised the America’s Cup would bring action to San Francisco’s waterfront — and action was delivered Monday, when one of the practice boats capsized, flinging a crew member down two stories through a delicate sail.

Crew member Shannon Falcone, who had been wearing a helmet, was not seriously injured but was sent to the hospital for a “cautionary X-ray,” Oracle Racing team spokesman Tim Jeffery said.

The racing yacht, a 45-foot catamaran owned by Oracle Racing and captained by four-time America’s Cup champion Russell Coutts, was about to start its second practice race of the day against its identical-twin vessel, captained by reigning champion James Spithill.

The two yachts were jockeying for position at the starting line, and Coutts’ boat had quickly accelerated when the wind caught its sails unexpectedly and toppled it over. Three of the five crewmen were able to cling to the catamaran, but two were not. Falcone fell from the top of the capsized boat — about 30 feet above the water — through the plastic gossamer of the sail.

The accident occurred immediately after an event in which Mayor Ed Lee and dozens of media representatives and yachting aficionados were taken out on the water to witness the speed and grace of the vessels. The catamarans arrived in San Francisco on Thursday from New Zealand, where they were constructed this spring.

They are two of 10 identical boats, called AC-45s after their 45-foot length, that will race in the America’s Cup World Series, a series of regattas that will lead up to the planned 2013 America’s Cup. The Oracle Racing team, representing San Francisco’s Golden Gate Yacht Club, won the most recent America’s Cup and has selected San Francisco to host the next event. The City will also host a World Series event in August 2012.

It was the third time that one of the AC-45s has capsized — two capsized in New Zealand a few weeks ago. One of the boats nearly capsized on their second day on the water Friday, but the crew righted the boat just in time.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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Monday, Oct 20, 2014

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