Plain sailing in Weymouth? Not for the Brits

Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson competing in the first race of the Star class.
Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson competing in the first race of the Star class.
This is what Alex Thomson Racing could look like in Haslar Marina, if planning permission is given. Picture: HGP / Dean and Reddyhoff

£5m plan will turn Gosport’s Haslar Marina into ‘world-class’ centre of sailing

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British sailors made a solid start to their Olympic campaigns in the waters off Weymouth yesterday but it’s it will be no cruise to a gold medal for any of them.

Ben Ainslie bucked his usual trend of making erratic starts to his programme with two second places in the Finn class.

Normally that would put him top of the pile but he followed Danish rival Jonas Hogh-Christensen across the line on both occasions.

‘I think he’s got a hotline to Elvstrom,’ said Ainslie, a reference to legendary Danish Olympic yachtsman Paul Elvstrom, whose tally of four golds Ainslie will match if he wins again in 2012.

The Hampshire star made an indifferent start to the first race and was 11th at one point but he demonstrated he’s a machine downwind in breeze and hauled in his rivals.

‘Compared with my last Olympics it’s nice to get two solid starts,’ said Ainslie.

‘It wasn’t the greatest of races in the beginning but that spurred me on. I have been better but it is where you finish which is important.’

Ainslie, 35, praised the support of the home crowd at the Nothe viewing area in Weymouth, adding: ‘I could hear it clearly and it really spurred me on.’

Weymouth Bay offered near perfect sailing conditions yesterday, though a windshift meant the racing area had to be relocated halfway through.

And it was a mid-race windshift that saw another Hampshire sailor, Iain Percy, suffer a hiccup at the start of his Star campaign.

The sudden and abrupt change in wind direction completely inverted the racing order in the 16-strong fleet dropping Percy and crew Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson to 11th on the first race, a result surely destined to be their single discard in the 10-race series to decide the 10 finalists for the medal race finale.

But they bounced back in the second race and finished neck and neck with their likely rivals for a Gold – the Brazilian world champion team of Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada.

Race officials gave each team the same finishing time but eventually awarded the win to the Brazilians after first giving it to the British pair.

The final results put Percy and Simpson fifth overall behind Scheidt, who was fourth in the first race, Ireland’s Peter O’Leary and David Burrows (2-6) and the Poland and Norway teams.

Percy said: ‘We were pretty disappointed with the first race, we were in quite a good position halfway up the second upwind leg and there was a big wind shift that we missed, that was our fault, and the fleet turned inside out.

‘We came back okay in the second but there is a long way to go. You know us we just keep plugging away.

‘It was important not to have a bad second race so we were still in the hunt.

‘There’s a long way to go and we have got to make no mistakes.’

In the Women’s Match Racing event, whose round robin series also started yesterday, Poole-based trio Annie Lush and sisters Kate and Lucy Macgregor won their first race against Denmark but were beaten by Spain in their second.

Today will see further racing in the Finn, Star and Women’s Match Racing, and the Laser, Laser Radial and 49er classes will also start their Olympic regatta.