Click photo to enlarge
Artemis Racing, of Sweden, sails with the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in the background during training for the America's Cup sailing event Wednesday, July 24, 2013, in San Francisco. On May 9 the team's catamaran capsized resulting in the death of crew member Andrew "Bart" Simpson. Artemis Racing launched their new boat Monday and began training on it Wednesday. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Each time Sweden's Artemis Racing has practiced on the bay over the past few days, sounds of cheers rise up from their America's Cup opponents sailing by.

It's a sign of the emotional pull all the competitors feel for the beleaguered team, which is only now staging a valiant comeback after one of its crewmen was killed during a capsize in May.

"We have great support from these guys when we get out there," Artemis skipper Iain Percy said during a news conference Sunday at America's Cup Park at Pier 27/29.

But just how well the Swedish team will do against Italy's Luna Rossa, which it will meet for the first time Aug. 6 when the semifinals begin in the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series of the America's Cup, remains to be seen. It's had only three days of practice in its new 72-foot high-tech catamaran, and the semifinals start next week.

Crew members work on Artemis Racing, of Sweden, during training for the America’s Cup sailing event Wednesday, July 24, 2013, in San Francisco.  On
Crew members work on Artemis Racing, of Sweden, during training for the America's Cup sailing event Wednesday, July 24, 2013, in San Francisco. On May 9 the team's catamaran capsized resulting in the death of crew member Andrew "Bart" Simpson. Artemis Racing launched their new boat Monday and began training on it Wednesday. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) ( Eric Risberg )

"We need to take baby steps, and we need to progress at our own speed," Percy said. "It's fantastic being on the racecourse. But we don't want to run before we can walk."

When Artemis meets Luna Rossa, it will be facing a team that lost all four races against Emirates Team New Zealand in the round robin, including Sunday's race by more than three minutes. But still, Percy wasn't exuding confidence.

"At the moment, they're a long way ahead," Percy said of the Italian and New Zealand teams. "But we're doing everything we can to bridge that gap."

While his team is learning quickly, "it's also true the time we have is a huge limiting factor for us."


Advertisement

On the positive side, the Swedish team was able to conduct a benchmark maneuver on its very first day of practice -- hydrofoiling. The ability to sail the boat so the twin hulls of the catamaran lift out of the water is a critical skill for increased boat speed.

Principal race officer John Craig said his impression of Artemis' progress was "wow -- out of the box and foiling."

Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena even acknowledged that his team wasn't foiling the first day it tried. But it has had months and months of practice since.

"We have full respect for the Artemis team," Sirena said, adding that despite his losses to New Zealand this month, Sunday's race was "probably the best racing day."

Percy, whose best friend Andrew "Bart" Simpson, was killed in the May 9 capsize, said his team is "trying to get to a point we're competitive and not shying away from trying to push the envelope. We're trying to get the balance right. It's not easy when the wind picks up."

The winner of the semifinals will face Emirates Team New Zealand in the Louis Vuitton Cup finals beginning Aug. 17. The winner of that series will challenge defending champion Oracle Team USA, which won the Cup in 2010, during the America's Cup match that begins Sept. 7.

Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409. Follow her at twitter.com/juliasulek.