Today was the day of my 24th Olympic challenge. At one stage I thought sailing might have been my first, but a lightning storm in Greece put pay to that 2 years ago.
I don’t really consider myself a sailor or someone who has sailed much, but after speaking to a few people today at Hampton Sailing Club, the home of today’s challenge, I realised that I’d actually sailed quite a bit during my life. My first experiences were on the family dinghy that we used to take down to Chichester harbour over the summer months. My Dad used to be a keen sailor, so for him this was a great way of doing what he enjoyed, whilst spending time with the family. Claire and I also spent a week on an island (somewhere along the south coast!) as part of a holiday camp many years ago, where sailing was a big part of the programme. In 1998, my last family holiday, we went on a Sunsail holiday to Greece where we spent the first week on resort getting involved in all of the watersports based activities and the second week flotilla sailing around the Greek Islands. Then as an adult whilst working for Mark Warner I took my RYA level 1 and 2 sailing qualifications during my time off from tennis coaching. I took part in a few races and invariably annoyed a few of the paying guests due to my consistent disregard for the rules. I also sailed some of Richard Branson’s Hobie Cats on Necker and even managed to get one temporarily detained by one of the islanders after I needed recusing after struggling to get back home in swirling winds, with the night drawing in. We left the boat moored up on another island, only for someone to claim that we didn’t tie it up properly and that our boat caused damage to theirs. This was of course untrue and we soon managed to get the boat back.
So having come up just short 2 years ago whilst on a Nielsen holiday in Greece, today I finally managed to achieve the sailing challenge. The opportunity came about after chatting to Jimmy and Katie about which challenges were coming up and which I still hadn’t worked out how I was going to complete. Jimmy mentioned that his Mum and Dad were heavily involved in Hampton Sailing club and that they would probably be able to get me into a race. So after a few emails we decided on the 21st September as race day.
This date coincided with the Bart’s Bash, a Guinness World Record attempt for ‘The Largest Sailing Race in the World’! It was a charity event in memory of Andrew Simpson who was a gold and silver medallist, an America’s Cup professional and an all-round fantastic man who was tragically killed in a training accident on San Francisco Bay in May 2013. The Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation is a brilliant charity inspiring the next generation to live greater lives by providing opportunities through sailing. For more details please see www.andrewsimpsonsailing.org.
For me, this was a great opportunity to raise money for a fantastic cause. It was also very fitting that one of my challenges was in memory of one of the individuals that had inspired the challenge in the first place. Details on how to donate can be found on the charity tab.
This morning I headed down to Hampton Sailing Club, a fantastic little club located on a small island (Benn’s Island) in the middle of the Thames River, not far from Hampton Court Palace. The club has been running since 1944. Everyone at the club was very welcoming and I couldn’t wait to get on the water.
I was crewing for Keith McAthur, the GP14 fleet captain on board the13065. There were 26 boats in the race, just above the qualifying number of 25 needed to contribute towards the world record attempt. Despite my sailing experience outlined above, I had never sailed on a river before and this proved to be a very different experience. Unlike when sailing on the coast, the wind is a lot less predictable on the river, which means that you can lose a lot of ground in a small space of time if you get into the wrong position. The race was really good fun and despite starting slowly we were soon in amongst the majority of the other boats. I started to remember why I enjoy sailing, because not only does it require skill and strength it also requires a high level of tactical prowess, as was evident with Ben Ainslie on route to this Gold medal in London 2012.
After 4 laps of the course we ended up 16th out of 26 boats. Hopefully I didn’t let Keith down too much!
It was a great day and I can’t thank Karen and Richard Comber enough for making this happen.
A race report can be found on the Hampton Sailing Club website. http://www.hamptonsailingclub.com/news/