Photos; On Edition

The day is upon us

With just over two weeks to go to London 2012 so 'Field of Play Manager' Rod Carr talks us through the sailing competition

Thursday July 12th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

After waiting for years, sailing at the London 2012 Olympic Games gets underway on Sunday 29 July, with the Stars and Finns first up.

For sports fans in the UK, the Olympic Games being on home soil for the first time since 1948, will be a once in a lifetime experience. For sailors taking part, the competition represents the culmination of four years continuous hard graft in what should be one of the most challenging of recent Olympiads.

Today the Olympic torch visits Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, with Rodney Pattisson sailing the torch away to the beach in Weymouth. This coincides with the National Schools Sailing Association Championships, which are taking place there at the moment with 500 entries and 700 children. But for the organisers, the ‘go’ button gets pressed at 1800 tonight when they ‘bump in’ (to use Olympic vernacular), formally taking over the venue, prior the sailors being allowed in from Monday.

Column1 Star, Finn Laser, Radial 49er RS:X M+ W Women's Match Racing Men's 470 Women's 470
27-Jul-12 Equip inspection Equip inspection Equip inspection        
28-Jul-12 Practice Equip inspection Equip inspection Equip inspection Practice Equip inspection  
29-Jul-12 R1, R2 Practice Practice Equip inspection Round robin Equip inspection Equip inspection
30-Jul-12 R3, R4 R1, R2 R1, R2 Practice Round robin Equip inspection Equip inspection
31-Jul-12 R5, R6 R3, R4 R3, R4 R1, R2 Round robin Equip inspection Equip inspection
01-Aug-12 Reserve R5, R6 R5, R6 R3, R4 Round robin Practice Equip inspection
02-Aug-12 R7, R8 Reserve R7, R8 R5, R6 Round robin R1, R2 Practice
03-Aug-12 R9, R10 R7, R8 R9, R10, R11 Reserve Reserve R3, R4 R1, R2
04-Aug-12 Reserve R9, R10 Reserve R7, R8 Round robin R5, R6 R3, R4
05-Aug-12 Medal race Reserve R12, R13 R9, R10   Reserve R5, R6
06-Aug-12 Reserve Medal race R14, R15 Reserve   R7, R8 Reserve
07-Aug-12   Reserve Reserve Medal race Knock-out R9, R10 R7, R8
08-Aug-12     Medal race Reserve Knock-out Reserve R9, R10
09-Aug-12     Reserve   Knock-out Medal race Reserve
10-Aug-12         Knock-out Reserve Medal race
11-Aug-12         Final, P-F   Reserve
12-Aug-12         Reserve    

See the provision course allocation here

Weather – a better test

Following what everyone expected to be a typically light wind event in Qingdao four years ago, Weymouth should - if the Weather God’s play ball (which so far they haven’t this summer) – be one of the most testing sailing venues of recent Olympiads. While Skandia Sail for Gold last month was held in big conditions and the perception of the overseas sailors is that Weymouth is a big wind venue, in early August it could equally be that high pressure sets up over the UK and Weymouth will be baked in glorious sunshine, and we’re all left waiting ashore for the sea breeze to materialise. At the moment that is a case of ‘dream on...’

The upshot of this is that Weymouth is not a venue competitors can easily optimise their campaigns for in terms of crew weight or equipment. There is no requirement for sailors to be skeletal as some were in China. They will simply need to be confident of their speed and skill across the whole range of conditions and if the weather is as unpredictable as expected then genuinely the best all-round sailors will come out on top.

However just over a fortnight out from the start of the Games we are getting a first glimpse of how the weather may unfold. According to the London 2012 sailing event’s Field of Play Manager, Rod Carr, the organisers, LOCOG, are working with the Met Office and the long long term forecast indicates that there is currently no indication of the jet stream shifting north (which would allow the Azores high's reach to extend in the UK’s direction). As a result the forecast, for the first week of the Games at least, is for conditions to be better than they are now, but hardly the settled warm summery weather one would expect in August.

“As far ahead as they can see, we are going to have ‘weather’ - so a typical British summer with occasional fine days and occasional rainy days,” says Carr, who adds that while the likelihood of a gale passing through in August is remote, the weather at times will still be “testy”. But for a regatta this is good... “From my point of view, I want wind and I don’t want high pressure and waiting around as a feeble sea breeze and the land breeze fight each other. The land is quite cold at the moment, so it will take quite a time to warm up to generate classic sea breezes. I definitely wouldn’t want the first week of the Games to be the first period of settled weather with the Azores high coming over the country.”

Statistically Met Office data for the last 10 years over for the period of the Games indicates that the prevailing wind is from the westerly quadrant, but this is only for just over half the time. Around about 15% of the time the wind is from the easterly quadrant with the rarest direction being the southeast. For more information about sailing on Weymouth Bay see the legend Jim Saltonstall’s guide.


In addition to being prepared for the varied weather, a further challenge for competitors, is that they will be racing on different courses to a much greater degree than in previous Olympic Games.

As the map indicates there are five race areas: three out in Weymouth Bay, one inside Portland Harbour and the ‘special’ one by the Nothe, a headland between Portland Harbour and Weymouth. However the Weymouth Bay East course - the furthest away from the Weymouth & Portland Sailing Academy, most in the lee of Portland Bill and with the most current - is only there as a contingency, to be used if LOCOG gets severely behind with the schedule.

According to Rod Carr the course allocations won’t quite be a ‘rotation’. For example, the RS:Xes and the Women’s Match Racing will be on more appropriate courses - Harbour, Nothe or Weymouth Bay West. Conversely, because of the tight confines of the Nothe course, the Stars will only race there for their medal race. “Their target race times are 75 minutes and that would be too many laps [in the Nothe] as the maximum length of a leg on the Nothe is about 0.6 miles,” explains Carr.

Carr adds that all the classes will at some point get to race on Portland Harbour where conditions are different to Weymouth Bay with flatter water but where, in westerlies, the wind is actually stronger than out on the Bay, as it funnels between the mainland and Portland.


For the first time, sailing will be ‘ticketed’ at the Olympics, part of a drive by ISAF to make sailing more of a mainstream sport in the eyes of the IOC and, in particular, one capable of creating income.

“Some people have been sceptical about that and if I had a pound for every person who said ‘you’ll never get spectators to pay to watch sailing’, I’d be a rich man, because it is sold out every day,” says Carr.

The capacity of the ticketed area at the Nothe is 4,600 people over the 14 day duration of the sailing competition, with tickets ranging in price from £30 to £55 for medal race days. So say an average ticket price is £40, that is £2.5 million sailing is putting into Olympic coffers.

It will be interesting to see how well ticketed spectating works – certainly this kind of stadium sailing has become a refined product through the Extreme Sailing Series, the America’s Cup World Series and the Alpari World Match Racing Tour. Spectators will be able to get an elevated view of the sailing on the Nothe course – where all the medal races are sailed – and there will be big screen displays plus expert commentary from Andy Green and Hannah White to enhance the experience.

To improve boat identification all the fleets for this Olympics are being ‘49ered’, with larger flags on their mainsails and, where appropriate, spinnakers.

It should be noted that the Nothe is not covered and there is no seating – Rod Carr compares it to Henman Hill at Wimbledon. “Certainly last year when there were not many people there, the sailors said they could hear the cheering, so I think it will be a pretty noisy affair, particularly when the Brits are sailing in the final. I think it will be quite exciting.”

However there are a few caveats. If the wind is out of the northwest, ie directly off the Nothe, then the medal race course will have to be moved away and competitors will have to rely on watching the action solely on the big screens.

While the vagaries of racing so close to shore have been debated at length surrounding events like the Extreme Sailing Series and the America's Cup World Series, the query remains over whether it is fair to the sailors that their four year's hard graft in an Olympic campaign should culminate on a race course that can at times be a lottery.

American Finn sailor Zach Railey have us his impression of the Nothe course: "It is always changing, it is never the same and the race really isn’t over until you cross the finish line. It is an incredibly difficult race course, very close to shore and it is very hard to pick up what is going on out there. But we know we are racing there, we have learned as much as we can about that race area."

Torrential rain could also make for a miserable spectator experience, although Carr maintains that there is little potential for it to be churned up into a Glastonbury-style mudbath, due to the sharp incline. But if you are coming to the Nothe, whatever the forecast says, our advice is be prepared for rain.

While the long term forecast indicates that there will be breeze, if there is too much or too little and less than 50% of the racing occurs on the Nothe, then spectators can apply for a refund on their tickets. Rod Carr spells this out: “If there is no wind or a gale and they get less than a couple of hours racing - we are scheduling about four hours each day –then they get their money back. That is all in the conditions that they have been sent with their tickets.”

Carr, who is in charge of running the racing, under the overseeing eye of Rob Andrews, LOCOG’s Venue General Manager, emphasises that despite the loss of income that not running racing will incur, they will absolutely not compromise the racing. “We want to put on a fair and equitable regatta with good quality racing, so we are not going to turn that on its head to save a few thousand pounds in refunds. That won’t even come into it.”

Non-ticketed spectating

While the Nothe will provide the official spectator experience there will of course be opportunities to watch the racing without having to pay. For this there are many options of which the best are:

- Either side of the official spectator area, on South pier (stone pier) or deeper into Newton’s Cove
- Near the Nothe, but inside Portland Harbour is Sandsfoot Castle, an ancient monument built during the reign of Henry VIII, which is 50ft in the air and offers a good view of the Harbour course, in a very pleasant environment, for free.
- If armed with some high powered binoculars and ideally a portable TV/3G enabled laptop – watching from the clifftops along the Jurassic Coast is an option if you want to view racing on the Weymouth Bay West course.

Throughout the Games the organisers are obliged to keep a channel into Weymouth Harbour open. This passes between the Weymouth Bay courses and the Nothe, and Carr compares this to a pelican crossing (the main road being the boats entering and exiting Portland Harbour). Marked out by big orange tetrahedrons, this channel narrows towards the ‘pelican crossing’ where crews are likely to be challenged by officials and will probably be turned away unless they have a berth pre-booked in Weymouth. The ‘field of play’, as it is called, or all the course areas, are marked with 1m white spherical marker buoys and while these won’t allow much of a view of the racing on Weymouth Bay, there is a spectator area for yachts within Portland Harbour, just off Castle Cove Sailing Club on the northwest side of the Harbour. However even then you will probably get a better view at nearby Sandsfoot Castle.

So aside from the level of competition and being one of the pinnacle events in sailing, what makes the Olympic Games different to any other regatta? Principally the scale and the security. The latter will be like that at an airport, with the tall wire fencing surrounding the WPNSA having been installed weeks ago.

And where is Weymouth’s surface to air missile I hear you ask? (There is one controversially fitted to a tower block rooftop in London especially for the Games). “We don’t have one - we have got a ship!” says Carr. “HMS Bulwark with the Navy and whatever the Grey Funnel Line has at its disposal!”

In terms of the scale Carr points out that in addition to the 380 maximum permitted sailors, there are around 1000 volunteers involved in staging the sailing event, coming from all over the country.

Class No of boats Crew Tot
RS:X Men  38 1 38
RS:X Women 28 1 28
Laser 48 1 48
Laser Radial 39 1 39
Finn 25 1 25
470 Men 27 2 54
470 Women 20 2 40
49er 20 2 40
Star 16 2 32
Women's Match Racing 12 3 36
Total     380

There are of course a huge number of on the water officials and helpers. All the course race officers are British and in Olympic terminology are National Technical Officials (NTOs). Among them are Tim Hancock for the Finns and Stars, Geoff Martin for the Lasers, John Burgoine for the Women’s Match Racing, David Campbell-James for the 49ers, Rob Lamb for the RS:Xs and Adrian Stoggall on the 470s. Each in turn has a team working for the usual jobs of mark laying, working the race committee boat, etc.

However because this is the Olympics, each class/course also has an ISAF Interational Race Officer (IRO) attached to it too. “That is to make sure there is no bias or accusations of bias, in things like calling boats OCS or the finish or abandoning races – you can imagine they all fundamentally affect the scores,” warns Carr.

In his role as Field of Play Manager, Carr (above) runs the British side of the operation, while his opposite number is Canadian Charlie Cook, who runs the IROs. In total ISAF is supplying around 70 international officials for the Games, from measurers to jurors and umpires.

In addition to the usual Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions, the race team also must comply with a document called the ISAF Race Management Policies. “This lays down in writing how the race officers will conduct the racing, from wind limits, when racing will be abandoned, when will visibility become an issue and when does shifty get ridiculous, so we are being absolutely transparent about all that, so that everybody knows,” says Carr.

So this document states the wind range – 4 knots (6 knots for the RS:Xs) or more if there is strong current in the racing area, up to 25 knots or 2-5 knots less for the 49ers and Stars in heavy seas.


But of course the reason we’re all there is for the competition and to see how our national heroes and heroines get on? It is usual for host nations to pull out all the stops to gain the most medals on home turf. Spain managed this superbly in Barcelona for example. In this respect, Skandia Team GBR has more genuine prospects for sailing medals at London 2012 than it has ever had before – thanks to upturns in form by Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell in the Men’s 470, newly crowned World Champions Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark (left) in the 470 Women and Ali Young in the Laser Radial.

Add to this veterans like Ben Ainslie in the Finn, Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson in Star and Laser ace Paul Goodison – all defending their gold medals from Beijing - the experienced Nick Dempsey and Bryony Shaw in the RS:Xes, the Macgregor sisters and Annie Lush, who are past World Champions in the Women’s Match Racing.

Perhaps the biggest unknowns are 49er sailors Steve Morrison and Ben Rhodes, who have come third at Skandia Sail for Gold in 2010 and 2011 and at last year’s Test Event, and ended up fourth at Sail for Gold this year, while Bryony Shaw, the Beijing bronze medallist has been thereabouts, but has lacked a podium finish this year.

Thus for the first time ever Britain has genuine, hand on heart, medal prospects in every class. Plus they will have the psychological edge of sailing on home waters with a home crowd egging them on. The Olympic Games is always important, but it means all the more when it is your nation hosting it.

The threat to British dominance is from Australia. While Ben Ainslie’s style has been constantly to dominate the Finn, not one but three Australian teams have been showing a similarly unassailable performance in their respective class over this Olympic cycle. Since 2007 Tom Slingsby has won five World Championships in the Laser, Mat Belcher and Malcolm Page have won the last three 470 Men’s Worlds (Page won gold in Beijing with his previous helm Nathan Wilmot and won three more Worlds before that...) while in the 49er Nathan Outteridge’s world championship record since Beijing has been 1-2-1-1 despite having a new crew in Iain Jensen. Critics of the Aussie team are fast to point out that Outteridge, and in particular Slingsby, ‘choked’ in Beijing - however they are now older and uglier and Weymouth is a venue the Aussies feel much more at home.

Another observation to make about this is that with Ainslie in the Finn and the Aussie trio there are sure fire favourites in four of ten classes, where the news will be if they don’t win... But form is a strange thing. While Ainslie and the three Aussie teams have the skill and experience to adopt this long term constant and absolute annihilation approach, there are others out there who have carefully planned their campaigns so they peak in time for the Games, of which both British 470 teams and Alison Young in the Laser Radial may prove to be good examples.

Among all this there are some epic tales. Much has been (and will be) written about Ben Ainslie. If he wins gold in Weymouth then it will make our lad the greatest Olympic sailor of all time equalling Paul Elvstrom’s four golds, but surpassing the great Dane thanks to Ben’s additional Laser silver from Atlanta. One hopes that Ben gets the adulation in the national press that he rightly deserves.

However on the women’s side of the sport Italian RS:X sailor Alessandra Sensini is back. If you score gold as 3, silver as 2 and bronze as 1, then Sensini is already the greatest female Olympic sailor of all time with her four consecutive medals at the last four Olympiads – bronze in Atlanta, gold in Sydney, bronze in Athens and silver in Qingdao – ahead of Shirley Robertson’s two golds and Kiwi boardsailor Barbara Kendall with her gold in Barcelona, silver in Atlanta and bronze in Sydney. Third at the World Championships earlier this year, Sensini, now 42, clearly has still got it in her to podium again.

But we suspect that the best competition in Weymouth will come in the heavyweight bout for gold in the Star class, where Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada are lining up for an almighty dust up with Britain’s Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson. Not much love is lost between the two teams as Percy proved when on starboard he rammed the Brazilian boat as they attempted to cross ahead of him on port during the medal race at Skandia Sail for Gold. So we can possibly expect a re-run of the Laser competition in Sydney with Percy and Bart taking Ben’s role.

Over the next few days we’ll be looking at the form, class by class.

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