London 2012 update

London 2012 Sailing Field of play Manager Rod Carr on progress and how the ticketed area to watch the racing will work

Tuesday April 5th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

It is coming up fast. Down in Weymouth on 29 July next year, the sailing competition of the London 2012 Olympic Games will be starting.

Over the last months the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) sailing team led by Rob Andrews has been steadily gearing up for the big day.

A significant hurdle was crossed at the end of last week: organisers now do officially have the right to hold the Olympic sailing in Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour. Sounds obvious, you might think....

“We’ve learned that there are no longer any objections to the Harbour Revision Order – which is kind of comforting because it’s nice to have a ‘field of play’!” quips Rod Carr, who since he retired from running the RYA has taken a new role, allegedly part time, as Field of Play Manager for the sailing at London 2012. While Andrews runs the show, it is Carr who deals with more of the detail, assigning and running the PROs, managing the marshalls, media boats, the schedule, etc.

As a former Olympic sailing coach who rose up through the ranks to end up running the RYA, Carr must have found his present position something approaching employment nirvana. “I am enjoying it. I am a games keeper having been a poacher. It is great fun. I couldn’t imagine the Games going on in this country without having an involvement and this is about as close you could get. My speciality is not logistics or villages, it is being out on the water, even though I am not specifically allowed to cheer on the Brits or even say hello to Sparky [Skandia Team GBR Olympic Manager Stephen Park] in the morning!”

The Harbour Revision Order effectively secures the right, by government decree, to be able to use and manage ‘the water’ in Weymouth Bay and Portland for the duration of the Olympic Games and Paralympics. Andrews, Carr and the team have been working on this for the last 18 months as the Order has implications for anyone who uses these waters, in particular those who earn their living from using it. “We only had one objection and we’ve negotiated that away, so we are in good shape,” says Carr. The objection seems to have been from a particularly business savvy lobster fisherman – lobsters being of course at their most prolific during the first two weeks of August when the market price is highest, (sucking of teeth) etc, etc. Now the Harbour Revision Order has been passed, so the Portland Port Harbour Master will be legally in the charge of the area, working in conjunction with the LOCOG team for the period surrounding London 2012.

The area is defined by an exclusion zone which the shore between Portland and Weymouth all the way to east to Lulworth Cove and then four miles offshore. Through this they have create a passageway for regular users of Weymouth and Portland Harbour. “We aren’t closing the harbour off, but you won’t be able to dawdle,” warns Carr for those using the passage where for the duration of the event, there will be an 8 knot speed limit. 


Slightly controversial is that at London 2012 for the first time sailing will be a ticketed event. As Rob Andrew stressed to us in our interview with him last year, LOCOG are under no obligation to provide this (whereas the organisers of Rio 2016 are). They are setting this up principally because ‘it is the way our sport is going’ and also because ISAF are keen to make sailing more main stream in the eyes of the International Olympic Committee with a view to ticket sales at sailing events becoming a revenue stream in years to come.

The official spectator area will be in Nothe Gardens, adjoining Nothe Fort (between Weymouth and Portland Harbour) with a view overlooking Newton’s Cove where at Sail For Gold last year the Women’s Match Racing was held. Capacity in the Gardens here is for 4,600 spectators and with ticket prices of £35/day for the first week and £55 for the second, there is potential revenue, if it is sold out, of £2.9 million. However according to Rod Carr the objective on this occasion is not for it to be a profit centre, but to break even. “By the time you have done it all, the security, put a fence around it, restored it and the traffic management system - which is considerable - the thought is that it will net off. No one is making a bundle of money.”

So what will your £35/55 ticket buy you? “A specially-laid course right in front of you and the ability to look down on the area in much the same way as the Extreme 40 events have been held or the Ultra 30 series in its day,” says Carr. “You will have elevation and be able to see it better than anywhere else or any other vantage point. You are also going to get a big screen in front of you.” So spectators will be physically able to see what is unfolding on the race course while on the big screen it will be possible to see what is going on on board, the tracking, etc, all to the tune of expert and unique commentary.

Given that Nothe Gardens are on a slight incline, already the organisers will not be installing tiered seating. According to Carr the atmosphere they are expecting will be like Henman Hill where spectators not around the courts can get to view the action. Only, devastatingly, without the booze (although the Nothe Tavern is a short stumble away).

There are of course other opportunities and places around Weymouth where it will be possible to see the racing in the distance and with the help of a TV you can get part of the way to having the same experience. But with the exclusion there is no real opportunity for watching the racing from on the water. As Carr states: “Spectator boats? There won’t be - that hasn’t changed much in the last few Games. That is why we are doing the spectator area - that is the logic behind the whole thing. You will be able to see a bit of what is going on from certain vantage points around the bay. There will be no spectator boats allowed in the field of play, so if you want a good view of what is going on, you need to have your finger of the red button of the BBC/be on the Nothe for the races you want to see.”

A potential downside, the typical competitors complaint at ‘stadium sailing’ events, is that being so close to shore can have a profound effect on the wind conditions. According to Carr with Newton’s Cove this typically occurs when the breeze is blowing directly offshore. “We have a met team working with us and they have number crunched 10 years’ worth of stats – for what it’s worth. The reality is that we think the racing only gets very difficult if the wind goes into the northwest sector, but statistically that is only 4% of the time.” Thereby guaranteeing northwesterlies.

If it does blow northwesterly then Carr says they may be forced to move the course into Portland Harbour.

A larger unknown at present is exactly what racing will be laid on the ‘Nothe’ course for ticket holders’ benefit. According to Carr the very minimum is that all the medal races will take place there, plus in the week prior to these, the RS:X classes, the 49ers and the Women’s Match Racing. “But we, the Weymouth team, think we might be able to give a better experience than that, but we won’t know that until we’ve tested the Nothe under race conditions. Our intention is to give as good a deal, and a spectator experience, as we possibly can, but not at the experience of absolutely crap racing. So that is where we are. We know we can do X amount and that we think will be good and feasible but what we don’t know is how far we can push the envelope and that is what the Test Event is for.” However this is slightly chicken and egg given that tickets can only be applied for up until 26 April 2011, ie before the Test Event has taken place.

Two Olympic classes events are taking place in Weymouth this year – Skandia Sail For Gold has been moved forward in the calendar from August to 6-11 June while, significantly for Andrews, Carr and the team from LOCOG, their focus will be on the Olympic Test Event on 31 July-13 August.

While Skandia Sail for Gold is a free-for-all, the test event is very much as it says on the tin and significantly, like the Games themselves, there will be only one boat per class per country, or 380 sailors in total. “That is why we couldn’t use Skandia Sail for Gold regatta as a test event this year or last year because the numbers are so much larger,” says Carr. “On the water, we’ll have the same times, numbers and people, including all our race teams, etc. In the practical sense on the water we are going to try and replicate the Games. We are not testing every single thing, we won’t test the Olympic village where people live because it won’t be ready by then, the security will be different - we won’t have a navy ship out there, but what people will see on the water, what the sailors see - it will be very very similar.”

One area being tested is the whole Nothe spectator side, how this will work and which classes they will be able to race on the Nothe course during the first week of the Games. As Carr puts it: “Clearly you can’t race 300 Lasers on the medal course, but can you race 40? We’ll find out.”

A misconception about the Games is that classes will always race on the same course, as they have for the most part at previous Olympiads. According to Carr they intend to rotate classes between all four of the courses in Weymouth Bay and the two courses in Portland Harbour, although there will be some constraints to this, such as not sending the Lasers out to the course furthest away from their base at the Weymouth & Portland Sailing Academy.

In conclusion it will be interesting to see how good or bad the take-up for tickets is. For the good of the sport and its future as an Olympic discipline, we hope it is good.

Details of the program can be found here. Buying tickets is not as straightforward as you might think and APPLICATIONS FOR TICKETS CLOSES ON 26 APRIL 2011. More here.


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