The second part of the interview with Andrew 'Bart' Simpson in 2008, a few weeks before he and Iain Percy would go on to win gold China...


By the end of 2002, Bart’s sailing and his results had gone downhill. “I ended up trying to beat Ben rather than trying to sail my best.” He took himself to a psychologist. “I wasn’t thinking the right things. He taught me to refocus on sailing the best you can rather than trying to beat anyone else. He helped get my brain back on track, and I made some steps forwards, focusing on improving my own performance rather than worrying about anyone else.”

He also stopped training with Ainslie. “Ben was, and is, one of my best friends, but training with him became quite hard. He’s such an animal in training, the most ruthlessly determined person that I’ve ever seen, much more than anyone else I’ve trained with.” Instead Bart teamed up with fellow Brit Chris Brittle and Spaniard Rafael Trujillo, and this worked out well for him. The Worlds in Cadiz 2003 would be the trials for Athens. Bart sailed perhaps the best he has ever sailed, winning the bronze. But Ainslie, of course, was first, and it was Ainslie who would go to the Games in Athens.

Bart worked with Ben as part of the British tune-up programme leading up to Athens, but beyond the Games he hadn’t worked out the next step. He didn’t have to ponder for too long though, as former Finn sailor and boatbuilder Luca Devoti was putting together a sailing team for the +39 Challenge for the America’s Cup. Devoti appointed Iain Percy as skipper, and Bart was one of many talented Finn sailors who leapt at the chance to learn big boat sailing skills at the very top of the sport.

That was the idea, anyway. Racing with an old boat, the team showed flashes of brilliance and took some notable scalps in the occasional match during the series of build-up regattas known as the Louis Vuitton Acts. But financial mismanagement got in the way of the chance of any real progress. Although the team had a new boat for the Louis Vuitton Cup in 2007, they never had a chance to get it up to speed. “To begin with,” says Bart, “it sounded great, loads of promises, the chance to do something different. Sailing the Cup boats for the first time was quite incredible, and we picked it up quite quickly. If we’d done things in a logical way, the result could have been very different. But we were still very fortunate to get the opportunity, I suppose.”

Interview with Bart Simpson
Percy Simpson Olympics 2012 - © Richard Gladwell

What the +39 Challenge also did was confirm to Percy and Bart that maybe they should be sailing the Star together. Bart says they gelled in the small-boat match racing that they did together on the World Match Race Tour. “I think Percy liked the way worked together with him doing the driving and me on mainsheet. He was good at making the boat go fast and I was pretty good at seeing what was going on up the course.”

So how has Bart taken to crewing the Star, not the most glamorous job in Olympic sailing? “At times it’s great, I quite it like it because when you’re putting the effort in you go faster, like any other boat. Last year we were nowhere near fit enough after doing the America’s Cup. It was about surviving around the course, but this winter we have been working very hard on that, at least an hour and a half in the gym, on aerobic and strength work. We need to work extra hard now, as we’re getting a bit old now,” says Bart, a year younger than Percy, aged 32.

I remind Bart that the Qingdao-nominated USA Star helmsman, John Dane III, is coming up for 60, so presumably Star sailing isn’t just about youth and big muscles. “True, and fair play to him because he’s been beating the other American teams consistently, but on the financial side he’ll have whatever he needs for the programme. He’s a very successful businessman.” So money still talks in the Star class, even if the last few World Championships have been won by a succession of young and fit graduates from the Laser and Finn classes, most recently the 1996 Finn Olympic Champion from Poland, Mateusz Kusnierewicz and his crew Dominik Zycki. The last decade has seen the Star class move up to a new level of athleticism, and should the wind decide to come out for the Games, Bart and Percy will be ready.

Qingdao is bound to test the patience of any sailor, and it will be those that cope with these unsettling conditions that are most likely to prevail. Presumably the fact that Bart and Percy are such old friends will help in situations like this. “Yes, we are best mates, but we argue too, we argue like brothers once in a while.” Personality-wise, both seem very similar, both apparently quite laid back. Bart says: “Percy gets worried about things, he gets more in a stress about things. I’m probably too laid back to be honest.”

Provided they put in the hard yards leading up to the Games, and there is little doubt that they are, then a laid-back approach to the vagaries of Qingdao might stand Bart in good stead. At least after being the man in waiting for so long, a talented sailor thwarted by the greater talents of his best friends Ainslie and Percy, at least now Bart Simpson is going to the Games. The Miami Worlds were a disaster, but Bart says that has made him and Percy all the more determined for that gold medal. Stranger things have happened at sea.