Along with the rest of the British population, we here at Sportsvibe are getting increasingly excited at the imminent arrival of the world’s top athletes in London next summer.
With each milestone reached and every new facility unveiled, the Olympics becomes ever closer a reality. And with less than a year to go, test events are in full swing as courses are trialled, venues are evaluated and athletes receive an early insight into what faces them in 2012.
So when we received an invite to spend the day on the water with Olympic sailing gold medallists Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson as they tested out the course they hope to emulate their Beijing success on, it was a pretty easy decision.
After a three and a half hour drive where as much time was spent getting lost as actually getting there, I arrived at the National Sailing Academy in Weymouth on the south coast. I was quickly directed from my illegally parked car down to the jetty where I had left myself no time to get changed out of my jeans and shoes into more water resistant attire, a move I was to soon regret.
Before I knew it we were out on the water, bombing along in the rib to meet Percy and Simpson as they flew around in their Star, tacking and jibing around markers and getting a feel for the venue that will host their Olympic assault.
After 45 minutes of shooting some very shaky footage alongside the yacht, I was invited onboard to meet Percy and Simpson and to try my hand at a few manoeuvres.
My sailing skills are basic to say the least and I made that abundantly clear when I took my place alongside the European, World and Olympic champions and was handed the responsibility of steering.
Considering they had been out on the water for most of the day having to fulfil numerous media obligations, the lads couldn’t have been more accommodating, offering advice and encouragement as I came to terms with the fact I was sailing with two superstars of the sport.
As I got more comfortable and managed to gain a bit of composure, my steering improved dramatically and I felt I was really getting to grips with this sailing lark.
So much so, in fact, that it prompted Simpson to declare I was the best they had had out with them that day and that I could be a natural sailor! My response of “careful lads, I’ll be coming for your place in 2016” was met with casual chuckles from both men that suggested I may have been getting a bit ahead of myself. Fair point.
We were now cruising along and I thought to myself how straightforward it all seemed. That was until I was instructed to take my place ready for some hiking. For those unfamiliar with sailing, hiking is when the crew hang off the windward side of the boat with just their lower legs remaining in the vessel in an attempt to decrease the extent the boat leans away from the wind.
With my feet tucked under a strap, my entire body was hovering above the water in what was one of the most unnatural positions I have ever assumed. Using my leg and stomach muscles as my only support to prevent me from toppling into the sea, and not wanting to look a complete amateur, I maintained this stance until the burning in my legs told me I couldn’t take anymore. It was then that I realised my claims of stealing one of their places at the 2016 Olympics may have been a touch premature.
After an exhilarating half an hour impersonating a sailor with Percy and Simpson, I stumbled back onto the rib and headed to the safety of the shore.
Following an interview with both men, which will be up on the site in the coming weeks, my wobbly legs had sufficiently recovered to begin the long drive back to London.
I have always had the utmost admiration for competitive sailors and the incredible skill, strength and agility they possess to competently handle these vessels. But now that I have been exposed, albeit on a very basic level, to the rigours of racing, I can safely state that my grand claims of becoming a future sailing star will leave Iain and Andrew with very little to concern themselves.
Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson are supported in their Olympic campaign by Citroën UK