Today the sailing world is reeling after the tragic death of Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson on the waters of San Francisco Bay whilst training with Sweden’s Artemis America’s Cup team on board a boat that is about as extreme as it gets.
It’s unbearable to think what his family and those closest to him are having to face up to.
Bart was a lovely ‘gentle giant’ of a man who I have so many fond memories of inside the British Olympic Sailing team. For years he lived in the sporting shadows of his great sailing friends Ben Ainslie and Iain Percy, but in the last two Olympics, whilst sailing with Percy, Andrew Simpson won Gold in Beijing then Silver at London 2012.
Yesterday ‘Bart’ was with Iain Percy as part of a 11-person crew on board what would have undoubtedly have been the most radical boat that either of them have ever sailed.
The huge AC72 multihulls have been introduced to take the oldest trophy in sport to a new era. The America’s Cup is no longer a tactical game of chess on water in relatively slow yachts; it is now a full on physical battle with an immense machine, and the forces of nature.
The boats are spectacular to watch and sail. Some can fly over the water on hydrofoils and all are powered by giant wings.
The crews who sail them talk openly about the danger and hard hats, body armour and personal air bottles are all part of their sailing gear. On the water support boats stay close in case they are needed to react quickly to an incident. But as we saw yesterday, risk cannot be eliminated.
After a catastrophic incident – the details of which will I am sure will be provided with more clarity over the coming days – Andrew Simpson was trapped underwater and, despite valiant efforts to save him, lost his life.
Before this tragedy words like ‘danger’, ‘extreme’, ‘on the edge’ seemed part of the appeal of this edition of the America’s Cup. Today it’s hard to not read the same words in a different light.
I am sure that all aspects of the safety of the race crews will be reviewed intensely, but risk can never be removed.
I am equally sure that some will feel that these boats have gone a step too far whilst others insist that sailing is a technology sport and that this is a competition where that technology must be allowed to develop.
Ultimately it’s so desperately sad that yesterday a combination of circumstances that the sailing community knew could happen, did happen.
And that Andrew Simpson, a 36 year old, understated, hugely talented sailor, lost his life.