Exclusive: For Ainslie and Me, Bart’s Death Is Bigger Than An Amazing America’s Cup, Says Iain Percy
Iain Percy has revealed that while Team Oracle USA celebrated their historic America’s Cup win on Wednesday night in San Francisco the man who played such a huge part in turning near certain defeat into victory only had thoughts for the late Andrew “Bart” Simpson, his great friend and fellow British Olympic sailor.
Sir Ben Ainslie could have enjoyed the moment he had dreamt of all his life, being a major player in a successful America’s Cup project, but while the drinks were flying and backs understandably slapped after “Team Oracle USA” had come back from a supposedly unassailable 8-1 down to beat “Emirates New Zealand” 9-8, Ainslie sat with Percy to honour their lost friend.
Simpson lost his life when Percy’s “Artemis” boat capsized in San Francisco Bay during training on May 9th, a freak accident that left both Percy and Ainslie considering their futures in sport. Both continued, with Percy now team Manager of Artemis as they look ahead to the next America’s Cup, and Ainslie the hero of the sailing world, but Simpson is clearly never far from their thoughts.
‘Ben’s never been one to wallow too much in post-race celebrations,’ Percy explained. ‘We had a couple of drinks, of course, but while most of the crew were in very high spirits Ben and I sat together and chatted for the vast majority of the time about Bart.
‘As momentous as this America’s Cup has been, especially for Ben, we both feel that it pales into insignificance compared to what happened in May, and it always will. I don’t want to downplay what’s happened. It was magnificent sport and should do wonders for sailing, but it’s also irrelevant in the light of what happened to our great friend, and I know Ben feels the same.
‘Of course Bart would have been so happy for Ben. He would have loved the drama of this America’s Cup too, with all the tactics, speed and racing on view. I saw a lot of tweets that said Bart was blowing on Ben’s sails and maybe he was.’
Despite the universal success of the event Percy believes there is a general consensus brought about by Simpson’s untimely death to make changes before Team Oracle USA defend their title in two, three or four years’ time.
‘That will hopefully be Bart’s legacy,’ Percy said. ‘I know that all the teams feel we need to look long and hard at safety, and that includes Larry Ellison (Team Oracle owner). We will be staging many meetings over the next few weeks and months to find ways to maintain the excitement of what we’ve just witnessed, but reduce the danger. It’s impossible to say what happened to Bart will never happen again. Sailing can be dangerous. But if the risk is vastly reduced then that would be a fitting tribute to a great man.
‘The rest of the event, however, has revolutionised sailing. It had everything: speed, drama, comebacks, a great backdrop of San Francisco and the bay, technology and TV that made it far more accessible and understandable to a worldwide audience. Hearing the team radios was like it is in Formula One and made a huge difference. Sailing’s always been a huge participation sport. Now, at last, it is also a spectator sport.’
Whether Percy becomes part of a British challenge for the America’s Cup looks doubtful for the time being. Although Ainslie has stated that his ultimate dream is to lead a winning British boat, with Percy alongside him, his friend has been promoted to Team Manager of the Swedish boat Artemis.
‘My focus right now is completely with getting Artemis to the start line of the next challenger series for the America’s Cup,’ Percy admitted. ‘We’ve obviously had a tough summer but we’ve gelled so much as a team as a result and from lessons also learned in racing and I’d be confident of mounting a very strong challenge next time and becoming dominant in sailing.
‘Of course I’d love to be alongside Ben in a British boat, but we have to find ways to reduce the costs and then find someone to back it, and that seems a long way off right now. It may be that I’m racing against Ben in the America’s Cup before I’m racing with him.’