Don't mention the mixed 470

Iain Percy on the America's Cup and the choice of equipment for Rio 2016

Wednesday December 15th 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

With the demise of TeamOrigin, so Sir Keith Mills’ America’s Cup troupe has now scattered to the four corners of the sailing world. Some have been fortunate in having a ‘plan B’, among them former tactician with the British team, Iain Percy, who has launched headlong into his Star campaign for London 2012 with Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson.

“That is one of the lucky things for myself, Bart and Ben [Ainslie] and where I felt bad for the others," says the double Olympic Gold medallist. "It is not just that everyone’s lost their jobs, everyone had something they were passionate about which was taken away. For myself and Bart we had something to throw our energies into, which we are equally passionate about, as is Ben [Ainslie].”

Within two days of the announcement that TeamOrigin was to fold so Percy says he was out in his Star down in Weymouth. “It was almost like therapy to have that and it was great, but unfortunately not everyone was in that position.”

Recently Percy has been globetrotting. He was fortunate enough to sail the recent Louis Vuitton Trophy in Dubai. With Terry Hutchinson and the Artemis ‘A’ team away training on Extreme 40s in Miami, so Percy was recruited into the Swedish team's newly formed afterguard for the regatta, under skipper and helmsman Cameron Appleton. But after a strong start in round robin 1 they had a disappointing second round robin and as a result failed to make the semi-finals.

“We made too many mistakes early in the week,” admits Percy. “We had four people at the back of the boat who were new and no one up the rig. The decisions in the puffy stuff were hard. So we made mistakes, but everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sailing with the guys and boat handling-wise we were better than anyone out there. It was a shame, because like with any new group with a bit of talent in, it showed moments where it was really working, and you just know that if you gave yourself another couple of weeks together it could really click, but that unfortunately wasn’t the case.”

At present the Artemis deal was a one-off for Dubai says Percy. “It was really nice to be asked and I enjoyed sailing with the guys. Now we’ll just see. I am quite relaxed about things. I have a lot on my plate anyway at the moment, but it is nice to have an involvement with a team. I think with the Cup coming forwards, just to feel that out of the remaining teams you have an affinity with one, that you want them to do well and you feel behind them because you have got to know the people and you have raced with them. So it is nice to have that involvement even if it came to nothing from here.”

Obviously Percy is now focussing on his Star campaign, but he says he would be interested in joining another Cup team if a suitable offer came along. “I do want to be involved in the next Cup. I do think that is quite important, although the less and less teams that are in it, the less and less important that is for me from a personal point of view. The only team I have a closeness an affinity with that has entered is Artemis, but it has to work from both sides. They are moving on with their project. They have got some great plans in place. There is a lot to do. It is a big Cup with a lot of things going on and if I can help out with some of that stuff then we’ll see if it fits.”

Despite the guffawing that went on after it was announced that the 34th America’s Cup was indeed going to be held in solid wingsail catamarans, Percy says he finds the prospect of racing what will be the most radical boats afloat, an exciting one. “It may have not been the message that we were always getting out of Origin but personally and Ben and Bart are the same – we are excited by the new class. It is going to be physical and full on, you won’t have time to have a coffee morning to make a decision at the back - which is nice - trust your instincts a bit more and be involved. And that’s what I am about. We are dinghy sailors, we are used to hiking our legs off at the same time as trying to decide which way to go up the beat. I am really excited about the boats, their technology and the wings. It will be a whole new world. We do a lot with Adam May so we’ve talked quite a lot about wings already. It’s nice to have been involved with someone like him over the last couple of years, because I’ve given myself a bit of a schooling.”

Since Dubai, Percy has once again hooked up with Ben Ainslie and scored a huge victory at the Monsoon Cup, winning not only the event but also the 2010 World Match Racing Tour – a fine ending for their last regatta sailing in TeamOrigin’s colours.

Meanwhile Andrew Simpson has been continuing to sail the Star despite Percy’s absence. “When I am not around Bart helms and he has someone else crewing and worringly goes much quicker than when I am helming for him!” In fact this is one of their profound strengths as a Star crew. “We are the only Star team where we could switch positions and the result wouldn’t change at all. I do quite a lot of crewing in the Star and we swap. We should do an event one of these days like that. We could swap positions and I don’t think the result would change and he is equally involved in the tactical decision. I’d need to get a bit chubbier probably...”

As to the prospect of the Star probably being dropped from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Percy unleashes a torrent... “I personally think it is a fundamental mistake...almost to bizarre levels. If you decide that you want no technical class in the Olympics, if that is your remit, then you could say it is a correct decision, but it is that part that I challenge. All sailing has a technical element. If you sail a Laser it is important to have the right tiller and then there are technical elements to the coaching and the feedback, etc. So we can’t get away from it. In every class it forms a different percentage, from the RS:X where it is mainly physical and tactical and hardly any technical, up to the Star class which has a technical element. But I don’t think we should pretend it is not an element of all sailing and also a great one, it is a positive.

”It is very legitimate to test the technical element of our sport. If we don’t at Olympic level it can cause real issues for the whole sport in general. If we don’t have an avenue for the Tom Slingsbys of this world to learn something about bigger boats - checkstays, runners, rudder angle, etc – there’s going to be very very little avenue for them to go into professional sailing afterwards. The young Star guys are learning heaps sailing with us and moving on into Etchells and into bigger boats and they are getting themselves a career. It is the responsibility of ISAF to think of those kind of things and the future of the sport in general and the individuals who want to make careers of it, because that is a part of it.”

Percy also disputes the cost issue, not the fact that the Star is the most expensive of Olympic classes, but that this prevents emerging nations from competing in it. “I think they are most flawed in that argument. The Star is the most expensive Olympic class make no mistake, but where they are completely wrong is that they think that makes it a barrier to certain countries to get into. Trust me, it is a barrier to any country to get into. The only way to overcome that is to have won in a different class or to be a name from the Volvo or the America’s Cup. You need to be able to raise a lot of commercial money to make the Star do-able. Now ironically if you happen to have come top five in a Laser Worlds and you’re from Singapore say, you are going to find the money pretty easily to do a Star campaign whereas if you did that and were from the United States then that wouldn’t be the case. So they almost have it the wrong way round.”

Percy points to Pole Mateusz Kusznierewicz, who has won Olympic gold and bronze in the Finn and now campaigns a Star. “I think Mateusz was Poland’s first Gold medallist at the time. He has never had a problem to fund his Star campaign. So it is almost the other way round. It is not a barrier to emerging countries, it is a barrier for all of us. Ironically emerging countries are probably the most likely to find the money, if they have the talent to prove it at Laser level. We want to have a class that has the very best sailors in it and with the Star, if you’re the very best, you can do it. You just can’t do it if you’re not and it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from.” There are other examples such as the Israeli 470 and RS:X sailors.

Percy then proceeds to lay into the general choice of equipment being proposed for 2016. “Are we honestly going to do a mixed 470? Is that where they’ve come to? For me they have just lost the plot. What is the Olympics about? Is it to represent sailing? That is an argument I have heard in the past. So the Star gets in very much on that, the Laser does hugely on that, doublehanded sailing and now the skiff represents that as well. Keelboat sailing undoubtedly is 70% of all the sailing that goes on worldwide. Catamaran sailing – I’ve always through it was ridiculous that the Tornado got sent out. It was a great boat to have in – or a cat of some kind. The argument with going down the cat route is that maybe you should make it a bit more accessible. The cat is a first class. The Star is not a first class for any sailor, it is a class you get to if you have performed.”

So a mixed 470 seems like a ridiculous notion to him. “It is not to say there aren’t quite a few husband and wife teams out there sailing- there are, but they haven’t ever been a part of our competitive level sailing. Are they just trying to copy badminton or something or let’s just accept that what we have done is appease the 470 lobby from a lot of countries that have 470s. But have some balls about it! The Jochen Schuemanns and the Paul Cayards, who have been in the sport for a long time, they cannot believe it, they just think ‘where are we?’ We are about to get rid of the Star, which represents keelboat sailing, and bring in something that represents nothing that has represented competitive sailing by anyone in the world ever. Have I made my point strongly enough for you?!”

Percy attempts to convince us that he is arguing dispassionately about the Star. He says that he probably won’t be competing in Rio 2016, whether the Star is in or not, but then neither is Jochen Schueman and or Paul Cayard, so why do they feel passionately about it? “It is people who have been around for a while, just get a little frustrated with the bizarreness of decisions that are getting made.”

Percy’s arguments over having a keelboat in the Olympic Games are compelling, since as he rightly points out, this does represent the largest single discipline within our sport. “It is still a big part of what people who sail do and it still represents a lot of the skills that are tested weekend racing out of Hamble. I am not saying we should never change. We should just represent all the disciplines.”

While he says a keelboat should be represented, he also maintains he is not a Star traditionalist. “The moment you find a boat out there that represents keelboat racing for two people, better than the Star - I’d be the first to say 'let’s go with that boat'. That boat might have an asymmetric and represent Laser SB3 racing more, say, than what we do now. I would be all for that. I don’t want it never to change. But just at the moment, the Star, to give it its due, it is still a pretty good representative of a keelboat for the size. It is still the best keelboat out there.”

So he would really be okay if the Star was replaced with a dumbed down ‘average white keel boat’? “I would say it was a bit of a shame because I enjoy the technical side, but I could understand if you wanted to do that because big boats have changed to being a bit more to one designs. Farr 40s, Melges, etc are one design. I could understand that decision. I can’t understand having the Star out and the mixed 470 in.”

So his ideal Olympic equipment roster? “Exactly what we have now, but switch the mixed 470 – there probably won’t be any takers any way. Who is going to do that? They might have to pay people to do it! They could go down to some local ponds and ask some couples in Mirrors if they want to go out and do it. Of course professional governing bodies will force people together to try and win a medal. But what a great sport that is... Mixed doubles at Wimbledon, does anyone know or care who wins that? It is not the top end of the sport. The Olympics is about the top end of the sport and every competitor wants to be at the top end, so hence you won’t have any takers and you are going to have to kick people up the arse and say they are going to have to sail together, because you are not going to get anyone to do. They have lost the plot in my opinion.”

Do you agree or disagree with Percy? Give us your opinion below.

Latest Comments

  • benremocker 19/12/2010 - 04:44

    The star is not the way to go. The keelboat racing should be there, but it should be Men's match racing in the same fleet of boats the women use. That way the match racing AC 'big names' (Percy, Cayard, ETC) can race at the Olympics, the costs barely go up because the fleet of boats are already there, so win win. Star sailing is just way too costly for anyone but the very wealthy or sponsored to even think about taking up.
  • simonstrauss 19/12/2010 - 00:12

    He nailed it with the backwardness of the funding. It is much harder to find funding for sailing in the US. We have had to pull teeth to get around a 5k grant to get george peet and myself to the moth worlds. Bora from simon's computer
  • simonstrauss 19/12/2010 - 00:10

    He nailed it with the backwardness of the funding. It is much harder to find funding for sailing in the US. We have had to pull teeth to get around a 5k grant to get george peet and myself to the moth worlds. Bora from simon's computer
  • gesnew 18/12/2010 - 19:12

    There is no doubt that the ISAF has lost the plot in their desperation to retains Olympic status. The IOC is playing on those fears for all they are worth. If you have to build special facilities, then the real logic it you should make more use of them by expanding the event. As skiing has done, adding new variants (snow boarding, short course) not throwing out the type of sailing that the majority take part in. G New
  • sticky 17/12/2010 - 09:41

    i totally agree with ian! yes, the starboat is an old class but it´s working quite well (reputation, quality of sailors, spread) i don´t think sailing on any olymipc level can be much cheaper than star sailing. the cost will increase in other parts of an olympic campain and if you sum it up it is nearly the same...
  • KingMonkey 16/12/2010 - 23:28

    Never sailed a Star. Probably never will. And yet while all the other Olympic fleets get one of the world's best sailors occasionally, the Star fleet has 12. Never 100, but always a good batch. By far the hardest Olympic fleet. There are reasons for that.
  • James Boyd 16/12/2010 - 13:02

    If the Star is plain too expensive, then is there a cheaper, more modern, more one-design, two man keelboat alternative? Something like the RS K6, but cooler?
  • George 16/12/2010 - 12:25

    Totally agree that there should be a keelboat, but not sure that the Star represents keelboat sailing across the Globe. Surely something with a few more crew? But then we are in arguments of cost and accessibility etc etc.
  • Mikko Brummer w... 16/12/2010 - 08:53

    Very good argumentation. I absolutely agree on all point... we do need a keelboat, and we also need technical boats, not just "monopoly" boats like the Laser.
  • unXpected 15/12/2010 - 21:36

    Beach volley ball goes sailing! What a concept. DWB
  • fisher 15/12/2010 - 19:31

    With him all the way. Bring back the Star and allow rthe acknowledged heros (that the IOC desperately wants) and banish the mixed excuse me in 470s - it isn't an Olympic option of any value. Fish

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