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Simpson’s Tragic Death Stuns Sailing Community

Sausalito diver Tim Sell captured this photo of Artemis Racing’s AC72 as it was being towed to Clipper Cove. Note the port ama sheared off just forward of the aft crossbeam and rudder.

© 2013 Tim Sell

Yesterday’s death of two-time Olympian Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson stunned America’s Cup enthusiasts both here in the Bay Area and around the world. As has been widely reported, the 36-year-old British sailor was pinned beneath the wreckage of a capsized Artemis Racing AC72 catamaran, where he apparently drowned.

Well-liked, two-time Olympian Bart Simpson will be sorely missed by all who knew him.

© 2013 Sander van der Borch

The tragedy occurred at roughly 1 p.m. yesterday while the team was performing routine practice maneuvers in the Central Bay. It’s important to note that this was the team’s first boat, which was not designed with the revolutionary hydrofoils that have been dominating AC news lately.

Immediately after the capsize, VHF channel 16 radio transmissions announced that one crewman was unaccounted for. By the time Simpson was discovered beneath the wreckage and pulled free, roughly 10 minutes had passed. Once retrieved, the lifeless crewman was rushed ashore, where paramedics administered CPR to him on the St. Francis YC docks. Despite their best efforts, however, they could not revive him.

Although Artemis Racing has not yet released an official statement on the sequence of events involved in the cat’s catastrophic breakup, conjecture among some analysts is that the boat suffered structural failures which caused it to capsize, rather than the opposite — a capsize causing the boat to break up — as was originally assumed by many casual observers.  

The port ama can be seen poking out from beneath the upside-down starboard ama.

© Tim Sell

In a Wired Magazine online report this morning, Adam Fisher writes, "The problem was with the boat itself, either faulty engineering or faulty construction. The boat simply broke apart under sail, folded, then flipped." Although Fisher does not acknowledge his sources for these statements, photo analysis of the wreckage seems to support this theory. Undoubtedly, Artemis will eventually release a comprehensive assessment of the sequence of events, but for now the team is understandably focused on grieving for the loss of their fallen crewman. 

Simpson, who is survived by his wife Leah and two young sons, was one of the shining stars of the Artemis team, having won a silver medal in the Star class at last year’s Olympics in London with Artemis’s Director of Sailing, Iain Percy. The pair took gold in the Star class in 2008 at Beijing.

This file shot shows one crewman wearing his PFD outside his shirt and another wearing it inside, which has become the prevailing style on all teams. While the later style looks smart, it makes it almost impossible to jetison the PFD in a situation like Simpson’s.

© 2013 Sander van der Bor / Artemis Racing

While some mainstream media outlets seem eager to claim these boats — and/or racing at these speeds — is inherently dangerous, we would point out that all competing teams have undergone extensive safety training for high-speed racing in San Francisco Bay conditions, the boats are shadowed closely by chase boats whenever they sail, and all crewmen wear both helmets and lifejackets. If only Simpson had been thrown clear of the wreckage, as were his boatmates, he would still be with us today. Structural issues aside, he was tragically unlucky to have somehow ended up beneath the nets.

The entire Latitude staff joins Team Artemis in mourning the loss of this brilliant young athlete. Our hearts go out to his family and friends.

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The battery in this photo is from the 65-ft sloop Blue Peter, which was built in England in 1930 from teak harvested in Thailand in 1870.
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