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Half mast tribute to award-winning teenaged sailor

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An award-winning teenaged sailor was killed in a road accident on Saturday night.

Vershon Simmons, 18, of Pembroke, died in King Edward VII Memorial Hospital after his motorcycle crashed with a car on Harbour Road, Paget, at 9.30pm.

Described as an indispensable crew member of the

Spirit of Bermuda, Mr Simmons was said to be a positive role model for more than 450 young Bermudians and was beginning a highly promising career as a professional sailor.

Later this year, he was planning to work aboard the tall ship Leeuwin in Australia and hoped to then move on to charter sailing yachts. A bosun responsible for sails and rigging he was said by his former captain Simon Colley to be “the guy you wanted standing next to you when the unexpected squall bore down in the middle of the night”.

Today the Spirit of Bermuda set sail on her latest voyage flying its flag at half mast in tribute to Mr Simmons.

The former Bermuda Institute pupil leaves sister Vernsha Simmons, 23, and grandmother Eleanor Dillas, 90, who raised him. Both his parents are deceased.

Tributes from Bermuda Sloop Foundation came in yesterday, with director of marine operations Mr Colley saying: “Vershon is the perfect example of why we do what we do aboard

Spirit of Bermuda. From the happy 15-year old I met on a voyage to Martha's Vineyard with a ready warmth and quick wit, I have watched him grow over some 11,000 nautical miles we have sailed together into an indispensable crew member.

“A fine young man. A patient, compassionate teacher, strong but gentle with an incredible sense of humour. Students loved him. We all loved him. We're just so proud of him.”

Foundation chairman Alan Burland said: “I recollect his constant warmth, kindness and friendliness. He was relatively quiet at first but he was very capable and grew in confidence to become someone you could really count on: calm and dependable.

“He was very strong he literally pulled the main sail up by himself on one occasion.”

Three years ago, the teenager was part of the

Spirit's team which won a race around Canada's Prince Edward Island.

Mr Burland recalled: “During the race he was nervous and reticent about helming, and I worked on him, and said that all Bermudian youth had to do spell on helm.

“There was no copping out. Within two days, he really took to it, and learnt to like helming, even asked to do extra helm watches and he was naturally good at it.

“He seemed to be a natural teacher and taught by doing, by example.

Spirit had helped him to develop in so many ways and he was one of our stars.

“What a loss. I still cannot believe it. He was a key member of the

Spirit family, with so much potential.”

Mr Simmons began his sailing career as an M3 student with Bermuda Institute in 2007.

Since then he sailed aboard Spirit for 15 ocean voyages, totalling more than 14,500 nautical miles, including trips to Turks and Caicos, New England and transatlantic legs to and from Europe.

He won the most improved skiller award at the Foundation's annual ceremony in February 2009, before joining the

Spirit as a watch leader in September 2009, aged 16.

Three maintenance periods in the United States followed, before he became a traditional rigger and then took up his current role as second officer last October.

He completed 22 local middle school voyages as a member of the professional crew and completed a rigorous professional training programme in Shipboard Firefighting and Survival at Sea in the US.

Royal Gazette senior reporter Ruth O'Kelly-Lynch, who sailed alongside Mr Simmons, said: “The

Spirit of Bermuda was made for young men like Vershon.

“In his young life he faced several obstacles which could have made him give up. Instead he focused on finishing his high school diploma at the Adult Education Centre and starting his professional career as a sailor.

“His accomplishments have a lot to do with his common sense and big heart but also the support he received from the

Spirit of Bermuda family.

“He was the kind of guy you wanted on every voyage and sailors around the world have reached out to share their memories of him today. He will be greatly missed by everyone who was lucky enough to know him.”

The accident happened near Harbour Road's junction with Cobbs Hill Road and is the Island's first fatal crash of 2011. Witnesses, or anyone with information, should call PC Steven Darrell of Bermuda Police on 295-0011.

The Spirit of Bermuda set sail today flying its flag at half mast to remember Vershon Simmons, 18.
Vershon Simmons teaching middle school students how to tie knots aboard the Spirit of Bermuda.
Vershon Simmons with Spirit of Bermuda crew members on a stormy day. Mr Simmons is third from the right.
Vershon Simmons steering the tall ship Spirit of Bermuda at night during an international ocean crossing.

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Published March 07, 2011 at 9:00 am (Updated March 07, 2011 at 9:01 am)

Half mast tribute to award-winning teenaged sailor

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