By Noel Randewich
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Sweden's Artemis Racing said on Friday it will remain in the America's Cup sailing regatta following a fatal accident last month, but that it will not be ready in time for the start of preliminary races scheduled for early July.
The participation of Artemis in the regatta, slated to begin on July 4 and go into September, was thrown into doubt after its 72-foot (22-metre) catamaran capsized and broke apart on May 9 during a training session, the second time one of the controversial multihulled boats has flipped in San Francisco Bay.
The Artemis accident killed British Olympian Andrew Simpson, who was trapped underwater by the wreckage, and raised questions about the fundamental soundness of the huge, lightweight boats, which can reach speeds of close to 50 miles per hour (80 km per hour).
Organizers have since adopted several proposals to improve safety and on Friday they announced there would be fewer races in the first part of the Louis Vuitton Cup, the winner of which will challenge America's Cup defender Oracle Team USA, backed by software billionaire and Oracle Corp co-founder Larry Ellison.
Fewer races in the Louis Vuitton Cup give the three competitors - Artemis, Italy's Luna Rossa Challenge and Emirates Team New Zealand - more time for boat maintenance.
Artemis had warned that it might not compete at all if its sailors felt that planned rule changes were insufficient.
"We are working around-the-clock to get our new boat ready, in the water and to prepare our team to race," Artemis Racing CEO Paul Cayard said in a statement on Friday. "We still have a mountain to climb, but our plan is to launch our new boat in early July and get ourselves in a position where we can race by the end of the month."
The other teams in the America's Cup have shared structural data about their yachts to help Artemis prepare its new boat for racing as quickly as possible, America's Cup Authority head Stephen Barclay told Reuters.
"Once they get to start line it's dog eat dog but they want to help Artemis get there," Barclay said.
A late start by Artemis in the Louis Vuitton Cup series of round robin elimination races, scheduled to go through August, would not leave the team out of the running for the final two-boat America's Cup match races in September.
If it starts late or even misses the first round, Artemis would race in the semifinals against the team in second place, giving it a chance to make it to the America's Cup and take on Oracle despite its setback.
Following the Artemis accident and an incident in October when Oracle's catamaran capsized and was swept out to sea, criticism has grown that the boats may be too hard to maneuver in San Francisco's Bay's heavy winds and rip currents.
San Francisco's police department has been investigating Artemis' accident but has yet to report its results.
(Reporting by Noel Randewich; Editing by Alden Bentley)