With the greatest of respect to Olympic champion John Osborn he appears to have missed the point of sailing.
Osborn and his partner Reg White won gold in the Tornado class at the Montreal Games in 1976, indeed they were such overwhelming victors they breezed to the title with one of the seven scheduled races to spare.
And in a recent interview about his achievements and life on the water Osborn made the following observation about the sport: “It is a little bit like a chess match, it’s not about pure speed, it’s more to do with tactics.”
That was certainly not my experience a few days ago at Olton Mere Sailing Club when the only conclusion to be drawn from my maiden race was that it is all about speed. Or lack of it.
Tactics are mere nicety to the necessity of knots. When you don’t have the latter, you can be a genius at the former but stationary is rarely the best strategy when there’s a finishing line to be reached.
Which, I am sad to report, is how I felt for long periods in the RS Vision, a double-handed dinghy which, because of its stability, is recommended as a training boat.
At this point I should reveal that I am not a complete novice. I have sailed Lasers, Wanderers, Wayfarers and yes, even Visions, quite extensively in the Lake District.
Even if my knot-tying would shame a one-handed boy scout and my grasp of sailing’s lexicon is only tentative, I can at least rig a boat, take it out on the water and return it whence it came. Sometimes without capsizing.
However, what became clear to me is just as there is a difference between knowing how to operate a car and actually driving it on a road, the same can be said for sailing in marine traffic.
And it didn’t take me long to work that out, about ten seconds in fact as the race started and I had positioned myself and my forbearing host, Dave Humphrey, right at the back of around a dozen rivals.
No matter, I thought, we’ll soon catch that lot – until they slid around the first buoy, and the second. Indeed had Olton Mere not been so compact, the locals refer to it as ‘our little puddle’, I would surely have lost sight of them in a matter of minutes. The problem? Obviously speed, explained by my complete inability to read the wind direction.
That particular meteorological riddle was as unfathomable to me as a Sanskrit text, at first a westerly, then a southerly, then an easterly, all in the space of single gust. Not that it seemed to bother the natives who committed to every puff by leaning out as if they could trust it with their lives.
Before long we were three turns in arrears and it seemed we would have to use our secret weapon – the spinnaker, a third sail whose mysteries had always remained safely folded away around a concealed boom.
Nevertheless Dave insisted, so out it came and for a short time we filled it, until the wind shifted and our short term goal became powering the spinnaker rather than reaching the next buoy.
Midway through the race and with all seemingly lost I stood down from the helm, though not for a minute did I expect our plight to improve. However, almost immediately Dave had tapped into a wind source and had us planing. It wasn’t too long before we had caught a straggler.
We weren’t going to win, but we weren’t going to be last either – until the crew, ie muggins, messed up with the ‘kite’.
In the end, with me back at the tiller, we limped in, short on speed, short on tactics but content in the knowledge that I had been able to return the boat to the launching trolley.
It might not have been the most successful racing debut nor the most white-knuckle of experiences but there is no such thing as a wasted sailing opportunity. And for that reason I would wholeheartedly recommend an afternoon on Olton Mere, arguably one of the most friendly clubs in the area and certainly the most beautiful inner city scene in the Birmingham conurbation.
But before you do don’t make the mistake of listening to any gold medal winners for whom speed comes as standard.
n To find out how you can get into sailing and windsurfing in this Olympic year visit www.rya.org.uk/regions/westmidlands.