With a stand at sail for gold, you might have thought that I should be pressing flesh at the shop front as it were. Well I am first thing in the morning and after the racing, but I prefer to sail when everyone is racing. However, after a 7 hour spell on the water yesterday I am not so sure I would not rather be sitting sipping coffee on the shore.
Its been an amazing week, meeting up with old friends and competitors. Most of my international sailing friends come from racing the Europe Dinghy over a span of 6 years and then from sailing the Laser for 4 years pretty seriously and some even from the days of me coaching the Europe development squad in the late 90's. Most of them are now either top coaches or managers in different federations, some are still sailing.
Robert Schiedt came to see me and asked if we still did his favourite mainsheet that as he said "I won many regattas with this sheet" . I have got to admit that if it was not for Roberts endorsement of Polilite®
and its success at the Sydney Games (gold silver and bronze) that I would probably have never got Rooster Sailing off the ground in the early years. He told me that he is now married to a Lithuainian Radial sailor named Gintare and that he trains with her in the laser in Garda - and could he have another mainsheet to use - how could I refuse? I asked him about the Star - and wondered if when it is not in the Olympics if he might get back in the Laser® - he was unsure if he could ever return to that level of fitness again at his age. I certainly understand what he means. 16 years ago I won the windiest race at the 1995 trials in Weymouth. I was 84 Kg and I wore a 4Kg weight jacket - and now I am 7Kg lighter at 77Kg - still reasonably fit - but still vertically challenged, but definitely not Laser sailing fit. The races on the second day took it out of me. We waited for 2 1/2 hours for our first start in 25 knots, sailed three races back to back and then sailed 90 mins home to windward. When I reached the beach at 19:30 I can say that I could hardly walk. Thank goodness for the beach volunteers who grabbed my trolley, smiled and helped me up the slope!
Racing is really tough. I fool myself that I can still sail at the pace of the pro's, but in reality they are able to torque the boat to take a big wave more physically than I can now and each wave adds up to half a boat length. After 3 mins - I am 10 boatlengths off the pace - and before I know it, there are only masters sailors or the odd smaller nation behind me. Thank goodness for some good news though. Chris Gowers told me today that I had the second fastest leg time on the first run of race one, sailing from 37th to 24th - and then said that I might be good if I practice! It brought an inner smile that meant although I am not physically capable, but I still have the techniques. Although in the back of my mind I think its always easier to sail downwind in the clearer air of mid fleet mediocrity - (with a lucky gust) than duke it out at the front. Still when there is not much to smile about, that really made my week. I am glad that he did not also add - that I was probably the slowest upwind as well!
I have enjoyed the moments of chat with my fellow Masters Radial competitors who are coaching at this event. Al Clark is coaching the Canadians - and Mark Orams the top Kiwi in the Radial. Al commented that Nick Thomson was so smooth upwind. He said "I just can't even see myself hiking that hard" . "He was able to hang with the top big guys until he was able to drop sheet and then he was off" We both have absolute admiration for these top sailors. We know how hard it is and some of these guys make it look so smooth and easy.
I am at the regatta to market Rooster and support the sailors, but for many this is crucial stuff with many of the sailors this being their Olympic qualification. You can taste the tension in the boatpark, even from those doing well as they are trying to hold it together. There are certainly some stories at this stage; what did happen to Ali Young in race 6? (Laser Radial) Why did Penny Clark sail the wrong course in race 1?(470 Women), which now leaves them no discard to the end of the series! where has Giles Scots big wind pace gone? (Finn) Why is Ed Wright now so off the pace after winning the worlds?(Finn) who will win out in the 49er? Chatting to another Olympic Finn medalist, now coach and ex Europe sailor - Sebastian Goodfriod; he commented that Ben Ainslie works the boat EVERY WAVE like it really matters - and that's why he is so quick. There is talk of him using a new mast - but Seb said that Ben is not fast because of a new rig - he is aggressive on every start sharp on every shift and works harder than the rest of the field.
There is still a long way to go until the regatta is finished, but whoever comes out on top will certainly have had a little luck and a lots of hard work invested to get them there. The medal races will certainly be exciting - and I can't wait to watch them on the GPS tracks.