SAN DIEGO — U.S. Sailing asked World Sailing and the Nacra 17 class association Friday to investigate a capsize in which Olympian Bora Gulari of Detroit lost parts of three fingers on his right hand.
Malcolm Page, chief of Olympic sailing, says the U.S. federation wants to know if the 17-foot catamarans, which recently were upgraded to allow foiling, can be made safer.
Page, an Australian who won two Olympic gold medals, also said he’s asked the Italian sailing team to see a video of the accident, which occurred Wednesday in high wind off La Grande-Motte, France, while Gulari and crew Helena Scutt of Richland, Washington, were training for the world championships next week. Scutt wasn’t injured.
Gulari told The Associated Press on Thursday that the capsize happened so fast and was so violent that he wasn’t sure if the tips of three fingers were severed because his hand was caught in a line that controls the boom or if they were cut by a hydrofoil.
A report on an Italian website said Gulari’s fingers were cut by a hydrofoil. Gulari, 41, said he doesn’t want to see the video, but wants someone to watch it and tell him what happened “so I can be smarter next time.”
Page said he heard back from the Italian team about the video but declined to say what the response was. Page doesn’t want the video released in order to protect Gulari’s privacy. He said he’s heard it’s on a secure server.
Gulari underwent surgery within an hour of being brought ashore and returned to Detroit on Friday. He said he hopes to get back to sailing as soon as possible and that the accident won’t deter him from competing for a spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic team. Scutt wasn’t injured.
The accident comes amid controversy in the class due to a problem with the daggerboards that led to breakages and instability in sailing the cats. The Nacra 17 medal race in an Olympic classes regatta in Denmark in mid-August was cancelled because of the problem with the daggerboards. The manufacturer sent crews new bearings to install.
Foiling has become all the rage in sailing, from small classes to the America’s Cup, which was contested in June in 50-foot catamarans than rose up on hydrofoils and sped across the tops of the waves, with the hulls out of the water to reduce drag and increase speed.
While foiling classes push the envelope, there’s always the chance for severe injury. In late 2015, French America’s Cup skipper Franck Cammas had his right foot partially severed when he fell overboard and was hit by a rudder during a training session.
Was foiling a factor in Wednesday’s capsize? “The simple answer is yes,” Gulari said. “The capsize wouldn’t have been as violent without hydrofoilng.”
Asked if the Nacaras are dangerous, he said: “They are a whole new challenge for all the athletes sailing them. It’s going to take everyone a lot of learning. I hope to God I’m the only serious injury in everyone’s learning process. Only time will tell. There’s a world championship happening, where there are a lot of people out of control. I’ve spent my share of time on foils and obviously I was out of control at that point, too.”
Page said he thinks it’s more plausible that Gulari’s was injured from having his hand catch in the line than hitting a foil.
Gulari said he went “from 20 some knots to zero in an instant. … It happened so fast, in a split second. My hand hurt and it didn’t look right. My fingers looked short and I was bleeding.”
He said he lost two knuckles on his index finger, one knuckle on his middle finger and the fingernail on his ring finger.
While saying it was “unfortunate what happened to Bora,” Nacra 17 class president Marcus Spillane added that the foiling catamarans “are more high-performance and go faster. They’re two feet out of the water. When something goes wrong, obviously it happens at a faster pace.”
Gulari finished eighth in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics with crew Louisa Chafee. He is a two-time world champion in the Moth, a small foiling boat.