/\ EDITOR - good thread as its just now getting opened up and discussed
still very sad and heavy - tragic accident.....
I held Bart as they tried to save him ... I just wish it had been me who died, not him
By IAN STAFFORD
PUBLISHED: 15:44 EST, 13 July 2013 | UPDATED: 15:44 EST, 13 July 2013
Iain Percy shuffles his feet nervously as he stares into the murky waters of San Francisco Bay. His face betrays the pain as he fights to contain his emotions. He wants to talk but his voice wavers and his words are punctuated by deep silences.
It is just two months since the tragedy which took the life of his best friend and fellow Olympic sailing champion, Andrew Simpson, who drowned when their £5million catamaran capsized here during training for the America's Cup.
Percy is back at the Bay and back at work with the Swedish team, Artemis. But he admits that it is, in many ways, the last place he wants to be.
Still raw: Iain Percy talking about the loss of his friend and colleague Andrew 'Bart' Simpson .
'If it had been completely down to me I wouldn't be here now,' he reveals. 'I would have liked more time. I may have even packed in sailing altogether.'
The fact he has not brought an end to a glittering career is down, he says, to the man the sailing world had nicknamed - after the cartoon character - 'Bart'.
For as Percy contemplates the America's Cup challenge that still awaits him and struggles to muster the competitive drive that propelled him to the pinnacle of his sport, he carries with him the inspirational thought of how Simpson, who partnered him to Olympic gold in Beijing and a silver in London last summer, would have reacted to the riptide of doubt, grief and guilt that threatens to overwhelm him.
Success: Andrew 'Bart' Simpson (right) and Iain Percy celebrate silver at the London Olympics
'I know what Bart would say,' says Percy, after another prolonged silence. 'He'd tell me to stop moping. And, of course, he'd be right. Bart was always right. My problem is I'm finding it hard to enjoy myself and when I do I feel bad about it because of Bart. But then I imagine what his reaction would be. "Just get on with it," he'd bark, with a smile. And although it's still so painful, that's exactly what I have to do.'
Simpson was just 36 when his life was cut short. His death robbed his wife, Leah, of a loving husband and their two young boys, three-year-old Freddie and Hamish, not yet a year old, of their father. It was Simpson to whom Percy turned when, having been appointed team director at Artemis, he asked his friend to join him in Alameda, just across the bay from San Francisco, to become the boat's strategist.
Simpson had only recently started a furniture business, having retired from Star class racing following the London Olympics. But he took up Percy's offer and moved his family to Alameda, where they planned to stay for the duration of the America's Cup season, regardless of whether Artemis won or lost the Louis Vuitton Cup, which determines the challenger to the holders, Oracle, in September.
In action: Iain Percy (right) and Andrew 'Bart' Simpson sail during the Olympics
For Percy, the appalling reality is that, had he not invited the man he had known since they met as 10-year-olds to join his team, then Simpson would be alive today.
'I keep asking myself why it had to be Bart,' says Percy. 'I don't want to be melodramatic and say I wish it had been me, not him, but it would have been better for practical reasons if it had been. Bart's left behind a wonderful, happy life and a wonderful family.'
Percy's decision to return to work was not taken in isolation nor with just his own needs in mind.
'I talked to Leah a lot about what I should do and she confirmed what I already knew,' he says. 'There's no way Bart would have entertained any other thought but to carry on. Besides, it's not just about me. There are 140 people working on Artemis and I owe it to them and their families as well, but I'm struggling to muster the competitive spirit I used to have in abundance.
'I usually manage to divorce personal issues from my work but I am constantly reminded of Bart through situations here. When something irritates me, I know it would have irritated Bart as well, although he would just have told me to deal with it and move on. When something makes me laugh I look for Bart because I know it would have made him laugh, too.'
Tragedy: The Artemis catamaran lies capsized
The horrifying events of May 9 are etched forever in Percy's mind.
There were 11 crew members out on the boat they called Big Red that morning and Percy recalls: 'We were in good spirits.'
According to reports in the American media, none of the crew was harnessed in or clipped to the rigging because they needed to be free to scamper across the trampoline of the catamaran. Late in the morning, Artemis and Oracle, each with four support craft, rendezvoused in the Bay, a head-to-head test passing off without incident.
Percy recalls: 'The training had been pretty uneventful. The wind was only around 18 knots (23 mph) and Bart and I were a few metres away from each other. We were discussing what time he felt it would be right to stop later in the day when the winds picked up. That's what continues to get to me. One moment we're chatting away next to each other; the next we're in the water and the whole world has changed. It just doesn't feel right that something so important, so brutal, can happen that quickly.'
Exactly what happened to Artemis is still the subject of official investigation. But according to reports, the crew were steering into position for another run at Oracle, carrying out a 180-degree turn known in sailing, with grim irony, as 'the death zone' because of the danger that the boat may veer out of control during the shift from upwind to downwind.
Rescue attempt: But Andrew 'Bart' Simpson couldn't be saved
As Artemis attempted its turn, heading away from the Golden Gate Bridge towards Berkeley, the front of the hulls dug into the water and the boat flipped over, partially broke up and capsized. One witness said the boat folded in on itself 'like a taco shell'.
Percy was thrown into the water and picked up by a support vessel, which took him back to the wreckage, where other crew members were clambering on to the remains of the boat.
'The first thing you always do when you capsize is have a head count and it only took a few seconds to realise that Bart was missing,' says Percy. 'The guys involved were heroic as the search began because it was dangerous to be climbing around wreckage in the middle of the Bay, but we were all running on adrenalin. Sometimes someone who's been thrown off a boat can be bobbing in the water a hundred feet away and comparatively safe but it became obvious very quickly that this was not the case with Bart. In the end the divers found him and the paramedics got to work but too much time had passed.'
Simpson had been trapped in the boat's wreckage for between 10 and 15 minutes. After the Artemis team divers freed him, he was pulled onto a chase boat where a team medic and a police officer, whose boat had been on routine patrol in the Bay, attempted resuscitation.
Percy says: 'I was trying to help but at the same time I was incredibly stressed. What is so important to me is that I was there with him in his last few moments. I just held him as they tried to save him.
Heavy load: Sailors Sir Ben Ainslie (third left), Iain Percy (second from right) and Paul Goodison (right) carry Andrew 'Bart' Simpson's coffin
'Bart was put on a rib [rigid inflatable boat] to take him to shore. Nothing had been pronounced at that stage but I knew that he was in a very bad way, so bad that I knew the outcome. My immediate thought was for Leah. She and I are great friends and I dote on the boys. I had to be the person to break the awful news of Bart's death to her and I'm so glad I could tell her face to face, even though it was the hardest thing I will ever have to do.'
Within days Percy was in Dorset, supporting Simpson's family alongside others in the British sailing community.
'I didn't know how to deal with it so I guess I survived by trying to help others partly as a defence mechanism,' says Percy. 'It helped me avoid having to think about it all.'
Percy, a visibly shaken Sir Ben Ainslie - Oracle's British skipper - and fellow Olympic gold medallist Paul Goodison served as pall-bearers for Simpson's funeral at Sherborne Abbey. Percy delivered an emotional eulogy.
'I carried a card with a picture of Bart on it and placed it in front of me for help as I began to speak. I knew nobody would mind if I had to stop and gather myself. I took a lot of deep breaths when I was struggling and managed to get through to the end. I just wanted everyone to know what a truly great sportsman and person Bart was.
'Anyone in sailing will tell you he was a superstar who remained so grounded. He somehow managed to pull off being a great husband and father, as well as a friend and a mentor to everyone in the Olympic sailing team. And while I might crash out after a 14-hour day working with him, Bart would still be writing supportive emails to youngsters in the sport way into the early hours. It's for that reason, and many others, that I was proud to carry him in and out of the Abbey. It was the very least I could for my best mate.'
It has taken Simpson's death for sailing finally to take notice of what many - Percy included - felt was an accident waiting to happen. The 72ft catamarans being used in the America's Cup are controversial, generating greater speed but being far harder to manoeuvre.
Carrying on: Iain Percy fields questions during a press conference for the Americas Cup
Percy says: 'These boats are full on. They're sailing's equivalent of Formula One cars. They're incredibly over-powered and that means they're always on the edge.
'I predicted that there would be three capsizes before the America's Cup was over. So far we have had two. Oracle capsized a few months ago but no one, thank God, was hurt. And then we had Artemis. I just hope that such an awful thing happening to a man who was a true great in the sport - like Ayrton Senna's death in Formula One - has finally made everyone sit down and realise that safety has to be the focus as much as speed.'
Percy's work now is focused on the rebuilding of Artemis. The team plan to be ready for action next month but Percy knows that their realistic goal is to make a serious challenge in the next race series, due to be held in three years' time.
'It's incredibly unlikely that we'll win the America's Cup this time now,' Percy concedes. 'We're in a very different place as a team both mentally and practically but we're keen to support the competition, be as competitive as we can in the circumstances and make a serious challenge next time round.'
Family man: Andrew 'Bart' Simpson with his wife and children
Whether Percy will be involved remains to be seen. His plan after the Louis Vuitton series is to return home to his girlfriend and the Simpson family.
'I'm going to need some time for myself and also to help Leah and the kids,' he says. 'It is a responsibility myself, the Simpson family and many other friends and colleagues take very seriously. I know exactly how Bart felt about Freddie and Hamish and there will be days in the future when I will tell them what a man far greater than me would think.'
Percy, Ainslie, Leah and others have created the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation as another permanent legacy of the man they have lost. The foundation will help young people get involved in sailing through mentoring and support.
A more immediate memory is a simple logo to be found on the wing of the new Artemis boat. It incorporates the name 'Bart' and the logos of the Star and Finn classes, in which Simpson enjoyed so much success. The Oracle boat will also carry Simpson's name as a tribute. As for Percy, the struggle goes on.
'A mutual friend of ours wrote to me after the accident,' he says. 'He said Bart would always be with me, on land and on sea, and he is right. I find myself now asking what Bart would think or do in different situations. It's an awful reminder but it gives me the confidence I've never had before to make tough decisions and back myself.'
It is Simpson's last gift to his close friend - and one Percy will surely cherish.
Read more: http://www.dailymail...l#ixzz2Z2dJF4B9
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook