Artemis Racing’s cathartic path

GMR_AC34Aug_277931/07/2013 - San Francisco (USA,CA) - 34th America's Cup - Open training 31/07/2013 - San Francisco (USA,CA) - 34th America's Cup - Open training

Artemis Racing skipper Iain Percy said before his first sail on the team’s new AC72 “Big Blue” that it was a sad day for him. For the first time in seven years he took to the water without his longtime crewmate and friend since childhood, Andrew “Bart” Simpson.
“It’s fair to say the first day we launched was a difficult day for all of us and me personally,” said Percy. “It was very exciting, very enjoyable technically and a great day sailing, but to go on the water without Andrew was very, very difficult and upset me a lot. The guys knew that, but we paid our respects to Andrew, and then had a good day training. And that’s what he would’ve wanted.”

The story of Simpson’s passing is well known. On May 9, during a practice session on San Francisco Bay, Artemis Racing’s first AC72 “Big Red” capsized and broke apart. Simpson was trapped underwater. He perished despite a long attempt to resuscitate by paramedics.

The loss shook the team to the core, and Percy still bears the weight. A pall bearer at Simpson’s funeral, Percy and Simpson became friends at 10 years old when they played with Lego building blocks together. They advanced through the U.K.’s youth training program together. They won Olympic gold and silver together. They spent every day for seven years of their life together.

But an America’s Cup program waits for no one, and Percy has had to make sense of it all while trying to keep the team together. He hasn’t had an opportunity to seek out professional help, such that a sports psychologist might provide. His catharsis has come while sanding the daggerboards and rudders, while carrying out general maintenance.

“Chats would be a fine thing, but we’re so busy at the moment,” Percy said. “Often when there’s a tragedy there’s a busy period. My busy period has continued a little longer than it normally does. For sure, I take some degree of comfort from that.”

Percy is happy to “shout about Andrew’s greatness to everyone he meets,” which a local Bay Area sports psychologist says is a healthy outlet.

“Death is a part of life, and athletes experience it from time to time,” said Dr. Randall Coeshott, a California licensed psychologist who specializes in sports psychology. “There is something unique about when a teammate dies versus a family member. It affects a wider community, a greater number of people. It’s challenging because there are so many constant reminders of what happened.”

Dr. Coeshott has worked with individuals and teams in the sports of American football, baseball, soccer, basketball, tennis, golf, track and field, gymnastics, swimming, diving and long distance running since 1995.

He notes that the accident is still fairly recent, occurring three months ago, and that it’s normal for people to carry a wide range of emotions.

“What’s common in individuals is the first hurdle, shock or denial,” said Dr. Coeshott. “Any range of emotions of guilt, ‘Did I do something wrong? What could I have done to prevent it?’ Those emotions are not uncommon. Another thing can be feeling of things unresolved, not sharing something with someone and not getting that opportunity.”

Dr. Coeshott said that it’s not uncommon to carry around those feelings for perhaps as much as six or eight months. He said the most efficient way to move on is to become absorbed in an activity or sport that helps distract the mind. To that end, the sailing has been therapeutic.

“The emotions of the situation are hard to describe, it’s been a very painful period as well as a very enjoyable period,” Percy said. “We’ve all enjoyed sailing and our time on the water.”

“Getting on the water has been a good thing. We’ve had a couple of tough months,” said Artemis Racing helmsman Nathan Outteridge, who was at the helm of “Big Red” when it capsized. “Everyone was quite concerned about moving forward. The best thing that ever happened was to get the boat in the water and go sailing and go foiling.”

“It’s certainly advisable to get out there,” said Dr. Coeshott. “One of the most important things in dealing with grief is having an outlet. Getting back on the water and even doing things that person enjoyed can help people get closure. In trying to get to the point of acceptance, engaging in activities can be helpful.”

—Sean McNeill