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A year after the Artemis incident, the sailors tell of the pain

by The Independent on 10 May 2014
Iain Percy (right) and Andrew Simpson (GBR), acknowledge the crowd at the medal ceremony for the Men’s Keelboat (Star) event in The London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition. onEdition © http://www.onEdition.com
A year after Andrew Simpson drowned, the sailors tell Ian Stafford about the pain of dealing with their friend's death and how opening a sailing centre in Weymouth is helping his name live on.

Iain Percy has flown in from California, Ben Ainslie from China, united in friendship and grief, and as determined as they have been in the pursuit of gold to ensure that Friday plays another part in guaranteeing that their best friend's name – and impact – lives on.

Sir Ben Ainslie arrived Wednesday from racing in the Extreme Series in Qingdao, the 2008 Olympic venue where he won the third of his magnificent four Olympic gold medals. Iain Percy, a double Olympic champion, arrives Friday morning from the San Francisco base where he leads Team Artemis in the pursuit of America's Cup glory.

Both are home for one reason: to be in Weymouth for the opening of the Andrew Simpson Sailing Centre at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy. It is the latest stage in the extraordinary rise of the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation borne out of the universal love from their sport following the tragic drowning of 'Bart' Simpson on 9 May 2013 in San Francisco Bay when Artemis capsized on a training run. He was 36.

The new centre – officially opened on Friday in the company of Ainslie, Percy, other key members of the British sailing community and, perhaps most poignantly of all, Simpson's widow, Leah – is designed to provide the chance for children of all ages and backgrounds to sample not just the sport of sailing, but opportunities to work in the sailing industry.

'It would have been almost the perfect day for Bart,' Ainslie explains. 'It meant so much to him to provide the chance for all to sail or gain employment in the business. Ridding the sport of any remaining elitist perceptions was a huge goal for him, and he'd devote much of his time to helping others, advising anyone who asked. I just wish he was here to see it. I'd give anything for that.'

The Foundation has raised more than £500,000 so far and, apart from Friday's event, will also stage 'Bart's Bash' on 21 September, a synchronised series of races worldwide designed to annually encourage as many people as possible to get out on to the water, and to keep the memory of Simpson burning brightly. It hopes to break the world record as the race with the most participants.

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