We got back in the boat at the start of March after a big lay off since October. We'd planned to train on our own back in Weymouth throughout March up till the end of April when the first event started. There was a load for us to do on our own as the boat has undergone a major facelift with the addition of a carbon mast and square top mainsail. Whilst the boat is still similar it's meant we've had to totally retune the rig and come up with a new tuning guide through the whole wind range. Also the mast is lighter and taller so it has had an effect on the boats handling as well. Fortunately for us the rest of the British 49er squad had been sailing with the new rigs for a few months prior to us starting so had given us a heads up on some of the things to expect. We were also lucky that Chris Draper and Peter Greenhalgh were also starting sailing in Weymouth at the same time so we were able to pair up and train together.
Training went well through March and we learnt a lot about the rig and how the boat handled differently. We also found the new masts have a few teething problems and many of the squad boats have now broken masts including ourselves.
The end of April gave us our first chance to check in with the international racing scene to see how we were progressing. Hyeres regatta, a regular stop on the calendar, brought light winds for a week. Pretty unusual as Hyeres is fabled for the Mistral, a strong offshore wind, which often brings racing to a halt through too much wind! Anyway, we had Joe Glanfield out coaching us for the week, who'll be helping us throughout the rest of the year and hopefully into the future. It was a really productive week and helped us plug some holes in our tuning guide as well as reminding us what racing is all about. We felt pretty race rusty and it was conditions that don't really suit us so we were fairly pleased to finish the week 10th. It was nice to go into an event without any preconceived ideas of where we should finish and just race to see where we finished.
After Hyeres we drove the boat and gear the 12hrs to Lake Garda in northern Italy and then flew home. We returned to Garda a week later for a bit of training and the next event. It's only a grade 2 ranking event and usually doesn't figure very high on our priorities list but this year our World Championships are on Lake Garda in July and this event would give us a bit of racing on the course to familiarise ourselves with the venue. The only other time we have raced on the Lake was for a Europeans a few years back and we had a week of "It's not usually like this!" so we were crossing fingers for the conditions that has earn Lake Garda the reputation as one of the best places to sail in the World. We got lucky and the wind blew every day except one! The racing was well attended probably due the reasons above. By the end of the week our windy weather sailing had improved no end and we were starting to feel comfortable again in the boat. The racing went well and we surprised ourselves finishing 2nd. Our first medal of the year woohoo!! We then had the less pleasant job of driving all the way back home. It took 23hrs exactly!
Since then we have done some more training back in Weymouth and at home in Exmouth and are just driving home from the latest event in Holland. Holland regatta is always a favourite of ours probably because we've done pretty well there in the past and this year was no exception. It was a little different to our normal racing as the fleet wasn't split so we had 45 boats in one fleet rather than 25! The first day's races were held in 20-25kts and we managed to score a 3rd and a 1st. The following days were lighter and we found it a bit harder going sometimes struggling to get clear of the fleet. We hung in there and managed to keep in touch with the leaders though sitting around 5th for the most of the week. Today was medal race day and so far this year we've not had the best track record in medal races so wanted to make amends. The plan was just to give ourselves a chance by getting a good start and first beat. We had a blinding start thanks to the boat to leeward making a bit of hash of it. This gave us the room to use our speed and foot across the fleet and lead at the windward mark. From then on the course was so small that overtaking opportunities were pretty scarce and we were able to sail away from the fleet for the victory. Our first medal race victory!! So as you've probably guessed we're pretty stoked at the moment what with that result pulling us up into the medals picking up a bronze.
We now have a month of training back in Weymouth before the Worlds in the middle of July.
This blog's been pretty bare for a while now so I thought I'd let anyone who still checks it what we've been up to since the Games.
Since coming home we've had a number of functions and celebrations for the Team to attend. The most special being a trip to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen. There was a parade around London to celebrate the teams success during the day but to tell you the truth I'd of felt like a bit of a fraud if I'd have attended. Waving and cheering like we'd won, it didn't seem quite right. But we did go to the Palace in the evening which was really special.
It was made funny by the fact that when we went to drive the car in to the Palace and got security checked, the police found a toy Tommy Gun in the boot! A prop from the weekend before's stag night! As you can imagine he wasn't overly impressed and made us hide it under a blanket.
The whole Team was there and we all gathered in a room which had the Thrones in. I say a room with the Thrones in but actually almost all the rooms had Thrones in. I'm guessing the Queen's even got one in her lounge to watch telly from!
Anyway eventually the Queen was introduced to the athletes from the different sports. When she got to us I was so overwhelmed by all the instructions on how to greet her all I managed to say was "Your Majesty". It was way more intense than any race at the Olympics!
Since then we have been given tickets to watch the Barbarians vs Australia at Wembley. An awesome night! As well as tickets to see Coldplay at the O2 Arena courtesy of our sponsors G4S.
We got invited as guests of honour to Starcross Yacht Club's dinner dance and Stevie to the same do at Pevensy Bay Yacht Club, both at which he delivered a great speech.
Closer to home I have recently got a puppy with my girlfriend called Baxter who is keeping me occupied!
Training wise we competed at Sail 4 Gold regatta in Weymouth in October with a surprisingly good international turn out given the proximity to the Games. It was a perfect week of sailing and though we hadn't sailed since the Games we managed to win and enjoyed it in the process which was our main aim.
We now won't be back on the water till the Spring when we'll differ from our previous years plans and stay in England to train rather than travel to Mallorca. Try and toughen ourselves up again!
In the meantime we've been busy organising our program for next year including finances and planning.
The 49'er is changing for next season. It will have a taller mast made from carbon rather than alloy and fibre glass, higher aspect main and a slightly different jib. It's hard to know as of yet as to how this will effect the boat. Will we need to be bigger? Will there be the differences in masts we saw in the last model?
From what we've seen it hasn't changed the boat too much. Though they do look a tad cooler now! We think we're going to need to be a bit heavier so at present we're spending a lot of time with our physio Dave MacClellan working on making us more injury proof and a bit heavier, though the later seems to be happening anyway since the diets of China have stopped!
We're now really looking forward to getting back on the water with the challenge of the figuring out the new rig. By the time we get on the water motivation will be as high as possible.
The Olympics sucks. I think I can safely say that now, having had a month to recover from the kick in the guts that is getting to within touching distance of your dream and then making a mess of the last step to grab hold of it. It has felt almost childish at times to take so long to get over what are in theory the games, but when you work so hard seeing it as a game becomes harder. However since being back from China we have been round several welcome home parties and had to stand in the back of many pictures. (at which, we are now very good at smiling with a distant look in our eyes!) Finally we seem to be at the other end and begin to look forward rather than back which is of course the only thing that we can do now.
In the middle of September we took part in the 'Skandia Sail for Gold' regatta in Weymouth (which apparently where the racing will be in 2012, this was only mentioned a few times though!), I think it would be fair to say that sailing was the last thing we wanted to do however when needs must and all. We said before that we wanted to make the event fun and enjoy our sailing. This has always been our strength really the 2 guys with the biggest smiles that seem to just be loving it. However this year the fun has gone a little a we lost a bit of control of doing things our way, one of the many things we shouldn't have done in 'hindsight!" (I hate that word with a passion!). Portland harbour produced a great week always hard down on the trapeze and the boat really ripping, which is what I so love about 49'er sailing. We sailed I would have said, the most naturally we have sailed since the worlds in Australia last winter and really did have a good time. (Always is more fun when you win they say) This was honestly due to the fact that we relaxed and didn't think about the results.
I think the best thing to come from the whole experience is the knowledge that even in the most testing of situations 'we' stayed 'we'! Our biggest strength is our team and the way we enjoy the journey. This year we thought it might be better to try other ways of getting there which may have been better. In truth our route however unconventional (even with the mountain passes!)(private joke) generally gets us where we want to be when we need to be there and we now have more faith in this than ever.
The facts of the here and now are we didn't sail too well for a 5 day event in the August 2008 and we are going to let nothing get in our way of sailing the best we can in Weymouth (apparently the venue for the next Olympics?!) in 2012. It's a lot of work for 5 days sailing but the journey to get there is truly one of the best experiences you can ever hope to have.
I would like to thank everybody who has been sending us their thanks and good wishes. Apologise for not being very good at receiving them but your support is very well received. I hope we will keep the website up to date as much as possible though we are having a bit of time away from the boat at the moment.
When we are back the 49er will look very different, bigger mast, main and jib. (did the designer see the medal race?) Wow going to be fun learning to sail that puppy. Oh yeah and Ben's now the proud dad of a dog called 'Baxter' so all say ahhhhh!