It’s been a tough couple of months for the sailing family, a loose-knit collection of folks around the world who—in a wide variety of ways—put our sport at the top of our priority lists. First we lost Charlie Leighton. Next came the news of Magnus Olsson’s unexpected stroke. A few days ago, a friend discovered his father had passed away aboard his boat. And yesterday, Andrew “Bart” Simpson was lost while training with Team Artemis. The photos have piled up in my downloads folder, happy smiles standing out in tanned faces, bringing back memories every time I search for a file.
I first met Bart when he was training in the Finn class, shortly before he joined forces with Ian Percy—a team that would go on to win a gold and a silver at the next two Olympics. I didn’t know him well, but he was a familiar face around the boat park. And now the sport that brought us together has stolen him away far too soon from his family, friends, and teammates.
I don’t think sailing has become more dangerous, though I’m sure calls will go out to “ban those massive America’s Cup machines” or set maximum speed limits on boats, or anything that might be done to make us all feel safer on the water. As Gael Pawson puts it, “Simpson’s death will undoubtedly fuel the debate over whether the current generation of boats is simply too powerful and dangerous.” (Read Tragic Loss of British Sailing Legend Andrew Simpson)
What has changed is how quickly we learn about tragedies like this one. A few years ago, I would’ve learned of Bart’s death within a day or a week, depending on where I was and who I was with. Now, thanks to Facebook, I and most of my sailing friends around the world heard the sad news within hours. It was quite obvious who hadn’t yet found out, since posts were still going up about dinner with friends, sunsets, a rollicking sail in a stiff breeze. As the news spread, more and more feeds turned solemn. A few friends even changed their profile picture to the cartoon character Bart Simpson, a subtle but touching tribute to this great sailor with a great smile.
So we go on with our lives and our sport, sadder and sadly not much wiser, newly reminded yet again of our small and interconnected family around the world. I like to imagine that all of our recent losses are lined up on a perfect starting line together, feeling that gut rush of adrenaline as they trim in the main to accelerate just one fraction of a second ahead of the boat to windward. But here’s the kicker—what boat would they be sailing? Now that Bart has registered for this final, perfect regatta, it can’t be the Star boat… that just wouldn’t be a fair contest.