“You were always there when we needed advice or had a bad day. You and your wise words will not be forgotten.”
British Sailing’s Kate Macgregor sums up in one sentence the respect, admiration and love that the whole international sailing and sporting community had for Andrew Simpson.
Bart; the gentle giant with the huge heart, enormous smile and kind of balanced attitude to life and his sailing that infectiously inspired so many. As focussed and determined a competitor as he was on-the-water he was equally as generous and down-to-Earth off it.
Everyone who witnessed Bart’s most glorious moment winning Beijing 2008 Star class gold with lifelong best mate, Iain Percy, could not failed to have been moved by the most human of stories.
It says everything about Bart that when the pair narrowly missed out on repeating the feat at London 2012, Percy credited Simpson with putting their silver medal into perspective and helping him appreciate the achievement for what it was.
A sailor who got the best out of everyone
Sarah Treseder RYA CEO: "Andrew’s death is a desperately sad loss and our heartfelt condolences go out to his family. Andrew was a lovely person and a brilliant sailor; he will be missed enormously.”
RYA Performance Director John Derbyshire: "We’re devastated by the news from San Francisco today. Andrew is someone I’ve worked closely with since the age of 16 – he was a great talent and a key figure in our World Class Programme over many years culminating in his well-deserved Olympic success.
He was a huge inspiration to others, both within the British Sailing Team and across the nation and our deepest sympathies go out to his family at this terrible time."
RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park: "Andrew was a fantastic sailor who got the best out of everyone he sailed with. He was much loved and will be sorely missed by everyone in our close knit team. Our thoughts today are with Andrew's family."
Andrew 'Bart' Simpson
Andrew was born in Chertsey on 17 December 1976 and had been living in Sherborne, Dorset with his wife and two children before moving to San Francisco for Cup duties in recent weeks
He first sailed with his dad in Christchurch from about the age of five. Before last year’s Olympics, he joked that his natural sailing flair spawned from his dad wanting a quiet life.
“My dad let me steer one day and I told him I was faster than he was and I think he pretty quickly decided I could have my own boat so he could enjoy himself rather than having his son telling him what to do!”
It is one of British sport’s great stories that he and future champion partner, Percy, met playing Lego as young Optimist sailors and, together with Ben Ainslie, the trio forged a close bond that, alongside their indomitable competitive spirit and on-the-water success, led to them forming the backbone of the British sailing team for the past decade.
Having developed under former RYA National Racing coach, Jim Saltonstall, Bart enjoyed success in the Finn heavyweight dinghy, including a 2003 Worlds bronze, but could never quite nudge ahead of Percy and Ainslie in gaining Olympic selection.
After teaming up with Percy in the Star in January 2007, the duo provided a glimpse of what was to come with a Worlds bronze medal that summer. But it was in Beijing 2008 where everything fell into place, with the pair producing a heroic last race display to claim their hugely poignant gold medal, which earned Bart an MBE.
London 2012 saw Percy and Simpson dominate the regatta, but a twist of fate in the final double points’ medal race denied them a second consecutive gold.
With the Star class removed from the Olympics for Rio 2016, Bart’s desire to give back and continue to contribute to the sport he loved saw him join the RYA’s Olympic Steering Group, which governs the strategic direction of Britain’s Olympic sailing programme.
He joined Artemis Racing, where Percy is director of sailing, as strategist earlier this year.
Percy said of his friend's passing: “Yesterday I lost my closest friend of over twenty five years, the friendliest and kindest man I have ever met. I cannot believe he is no longer with us.
“Now all our thoughts should be with his wife and two amazing boys who meant the world to him. Andrew has more friends than anyone and we will continue to support his family with all our hearts.”
Tributes from teammates
The tributes paid this morning by his teammates and colleagues on Twitter and social networks provide an even clearer insight into his understated influence throughout every level of the sport.
Sir Ben Ainslie said: “This is such a tragedy. Andrew was such a wonderful husband, father, friend and one of the nicest people you would ever meet. The only solace I can find is that he died doing something which he loved. I have such fond memories of growing up sailing together as kids and then as adults. I will miss him so much. My thoughts and prayers are with Leah, their two boys and their family.”
British Sailing Team Development Sailor, Elliot Hanson, said: “Childhood hero and undeniably one of sailing greats,” while Olympic 470 silver medallist, Luke Patience, simply said: “Devastated. Bart, you are a true inspiration,” and windsurfer Nick Dempsey added: “Going to miss you Bart.”
‘Shock’, ‘devastated’, ‘inspiration’ – words repeated time and time again as people struggle to make sense of what has happened. But alongside those the words ‘gentleman’, ‘funny’, ‘intelligent’, ‘no ego’ are equally prevalent.
Young sailors will cite Bart as their inspiration
He may not have spoken loudly but when he did speak his voice and views resonated deeply. He was a man you listened to, a man whose opinion was so valued by the decision-makers at the very top of the sport to the youngest sailors just developing their own talents.
There will be young sailors standing on the Olympic podium in future years who will cite Bart as their inspiration. You could argue there would be no bigger tribute to him.
But probably the most defining thing you can say about Bart is that he was just a really, really top bloke. Everyone loved him. That is what will be remembered most about him.
The RYA sends its thoughts and prayers to Andrew’s wife, Leah, their two young children, and his family and friends. It was a privilege to have shared his journey. Rest in Peace Bart.
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