by Bob Fisher
Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson (GBR), pictured at the Men’s Keelboat (Star) event in the London 2012 Olympic Sailing Regatta
Andrew Simpson died doing what he did well – sailing a high-end racing craft.
He was a leading figure in the development of the Artemis Racing 72-foot wing-sailed catamaran for the upcoming America’s Cup. Simpson, known universally among his fellow sailors as 'Bart', was trapped under the boat when it capsized on San Francisco Bay during a routine training exercise. Efforts made to resuscitate him after being held underwater for ten minutes, both afloat and ashore, were unsuccessful.
The 36-year old Simpson won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 in the Star class with his long-term sailing partner, Iain Percy. The two had been friends for years and campaigned again with the Star in Weymouth last year where they won the silver medal – only one wave that lifted a fellow competitor, and not the British boat, at the finish line of the medal race prevented them from taking their second gold medal after they had led on points throughout the regatta. He was awarded the MBE in 2009 following his Beijing success.
All sailors have their specialities and Simpson’s extended from his search for speed into the nuts and bolts of how it might be obtained. His meticulous boat preparation was second to none and Percy was content to leave the majority of the details of this to his crewman. Simpson spent many hours working on their Star and was rewarded with unsurpassed boat performance.
In addition, he was a superb athlete. He knew he had to be extremely fit to give the necessary physical energy to sailing a boat at its limits and concentrate on the mental aspects of sail trim and tactics. Percy relied a great deal on the input he received from his friend Andrew who had trained physically for his task after admitting that he had 'flabbed up' after ceasing to sail the Finn for a year.
His sailing began at the age of six, with his father in a Seafly dinghy from Christchurch, Dorset and progressed into the RYA Youth Squad under the direction of Chief Coach Jim Saltonstall, who declared him: 'One of my finest ‘ferrets’ – he enjoyed learning to sail better all the time.' Simpson, however, was the perpetual bridesmaid, never quite able to master his two contemporaries, Percy and Ben Ainslie, but of that he showed no lasting concern and was happy to contribute to joint success with Percy.
Earlier in his sailing career, Andrew Simpson had sailed the men’s heavyweight single-handed dinghy, the Finn. This is an athlete’s boat and after finishing second in the Olympic trials, he became Percy’s training partner in this class – an alliance that produced a gold medal for Percy at the Sydney Olympics. At the time, Percy was full of praise for the assistance he had received. 'This medal,' he said after it had been awarded, 'is half Andrew’s.'
Britain’s Olympic Team Manager, Stephen Park, said: 'This is one of the saddest-ever days for the sailing world. 'Bart' was a talented, well-known and much liked competitor who was respected within his peer group. He will be missed around the racing venues.'
It was natural that he would follow his skipper into the America’s Cup when he joined the Artemis Racing team and was full of enthusiasm for the task in hand. Constantly smiling, Simpson was enjoying his first America’s Cup campaign with the Swedish Artemis team. 'This may not be racing for Britain,' he said recently, 'but it is in preparation for the time when our country can mount a challenge.'
Andrew Simpson, born 17th December 1976, died 9th May 2013, leaves a wife, Leah, and two children.