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Gladwell's Line- Tragedy in San Francisco + RYA Tribute Video

by Richard Gladwell on 13 May 2013
Iain Percy and Bart Simpson cross the finish line in the Medal race of the Star class in the 2012 Olympics to win the Silver Medal, having led the fleet going into the final race. © Richard Gladwell www.richardgladwell.com
Following is the editorial published in Sail-World NZ's newsletter published on May 10, NZT. It is republished for those who don't subscribe to Sail-World.com's New Zealand newsletter.

Tragedy hit the 2013 America's Cup with the death of double Olympic Medalist, Andrew 'Bart' Simpson.

He was a member of the British sailing elite, that sadly has now lost two of its number, with 1996 Olympic Silver Medalist John Merrick's death in a car crash in 1997, and now that of Bart Simpson.

Bart was part of an era of achievement by Great Britain, that will never be matched again in sailing.

Two of the world's Sailing families are in mourning for one of their own. The Olympic family for having lost a double Medalist; and the America's Cup sailing family for having lost a great competitor, who looked set to become part of the next British America's Cup Challenge.

At Sail-World we mourn the passing of one of the characters of the sport, as well as one of its great achievers, and our condolences to his family and many friends.

Of course, the world of sailing is in shock at today's turn of events.


Death is sadly part of our sport, maybe more so than most. Previously an accepted part of offshore and ocean sailing, this is a rare instance in inshore racing and in the America's Cup in particular.

Every sailor that goes on the water must accept that no matter what safety precautions are taken, there is a chance they may never come back.

That is part of the risk we all take - from the novice Optimist sailor, to the Volvo Ocean Racer.

But that does not ease the shock, when a sailor gets caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, and serious injury or death results.

Part of the attraction of sailing is taking on the elements, but also tempered by the sober knowledge that you never get a second chance with the sea.


Only sailors understand the attraction of sailing in light winds and strong. Those outside the sport judge us by different standards, and with the benefit of hindsight.

The question is where to from here?

Already two inquiries are underway, one by the San Francisco Police Department. Quite where those go is unclear at this stage.

There will obviously be a lot of issues raised, and things that could have been done better. Losing two boats, and one death, in the course of eight months is not a good look in the eyes of the public or officialdom.

The point is that the AC72's are new boats, a new type of sailing, and we will all learn from it. Those lessons may go right through the sport.


Nevertheless the America's Cup Regatta must go on.

There are stringent safety provisions, which are already in place for the racing, It seems those were substantially in place for the fatal training session.

There is little that can be done in the racing itself. Maybe the wind limit will come back to 30kts. Anything else is going to affect teams that have designed and prepared for the regatta.

The bottom line, if a team feels that conditions are too dangerous, or they are not prepared, is not to race.

Yes, they will lose the point, but in the Louis Vuitton Cup Qualification Round with all three competitors at least going directly into the Semi-Finals, there is not a lot at stake.


While one team may lose the point, by the same token the other team has to complete the course to win the point, and in the process may lose their boat. That is a risk that is always inherent in high performance sailing, which is often a test of seamanship as well as just sailing fast.

One thing is for sure, after today's tragic events, no-one can blame a team, or individuals for electing not to race.

And in the same vein, everyone that goes on the water knows what the risks are. That a combination of a sudden gust of wind, an unusual wave, some gear breaking, and just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, could cause injury or cost you, your life.

Very sadly, Andrew Simpson has joined a long list of very experienced sailors who have lost their lives at sea, pursuing the sport they love - Hans Horrevoets, Rob James, Eric Tarbarly, and Larry Klein to name but a few.

And having learned any lessons to be had, we will continue.


Richard Gladwell
NZ and America's Cup Editor

sailworldnzl@gmail.com





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