Sailing With Olympians
Olympic 470’s sailor Luke Patience was allocated to my boat crewed by 8 novice sailors in the first pre-Olympic corporate sailing challenge for Accenture Olympic 2012 sponsors.
With 8 knots of breeze and about an hour to go before lunch, we practiced a few basic manoeuvres, our goal to set up our boat to compete in an afternoon race against 4 more Olympic sailors.
Luke coached the team on sailboat do’s and don’ts and identified helmsmen and sail trimmers from amongst the crew. A gifted tactician, Luke supported me in teaching the team to handle the boat in a matter of minutes.
After lunch, we headed to the start line off the Isle of Wight coast near Cowes in water that was crowded with yachts and a constant stream of passing tankers.
The Olympic sailors on each boat helmed at the start and two times Olympic Gold Medalist Sarah Ayton was first away with our boat a length behind, but in an advantageous position to windward with the rest of the fleet trailing slightly.
The upwind mark was tucked in to the beach on the north side of the Solent. The choices were either to take the stronger westerly wind and stay in the stronger tide, or tack into the shallows avoiding the tide at the expense of a stronger breeze. Sarah headed for the breeze; we went in for the tide.
Sarah reached the windward mark 3 boat lengths clear ahead of us with the rest of the fleet 2-5 boat lengths behind.
The next mark was down wind and tide. To avoid us casting our wind shadow her way, Sarah gybed away towards the beach at Calshot.
We headed the same way but on a more direct line to the next mark. The fleet wisely left us to fight and went straight for the mark. Sarah managed to hold us off and rounded the mark only a boat length ahead. The fleet behind us fouled each other and suffered in a continued fight for third place.
Calshot Spit was our next mark and on a falling tide it is where a tidal flow (currently going East) and a southerly flow (exiting Southampton Water) meet. The wind still astern, we selected a route that was north of Sarah’s track and took advantage of the greater tide flow which allowing us to pull level.
As the now windward yacht, Sarah had luffing rights on us and took full advantage.
Inching ahead slowly we, raced on towards Calshot beach, a line of mud, sand and shingle deposited on the eastern end of Southampton water, as it empties into the Solent.
We struggled hard but couldn’t break clear ahead and as the depth gauge dropped steadily from 6m below the keel, to a gut lifting 0.2, it was clear from the terrifying grin on Sarah’s face that we were not going to get the water we were begging for in time.
Luke scandalised the sails and with a zero showing on the depth gauge we swung hard to starboard, our pulpit clearing Sarah’s stern with a good inch to spare and left us pointing towards the finish line with a straight drag race.
With adrenalin levels at a shocking level we worked our 37′ cruiser racers like crazy, tried every trick desperate trick.
We managed a boat length clear ahead, but Sarah’s yacht climbed back up, stealing our precious breeze from her windward position. Sarah’s yacht took line honours with less than a metre on us.
If you have sailed in regattas before, you will know that the yachts are generally matched so that they are within a couple of % of each other.
The biggest difference to performance always comes from the crew, which on our charter fleet typically starts from a relatively basic sailing level. A level platform and all we generally have time for on a corporate event.
But having an Olympic sailor of Luke’s pedigree on board added a whole new dimension. Olympic sailors practice, work and then polish their sailing knowledge, skills, behaviours, mind, body and boat to the ultimate levels of professionalism.
Luke’s total confidence and belief in the team, his clear communication and exceptional grasp of strategy and tactics drove us to levels of performance that seemed impossible.
What an experience!
Team Voyage provides skipper, team and leadership development programs using sailing as our classroom. Contact me on: 07940 755661 or email me at email@example.com
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