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FOUR SEASONS: AN OLYMPIC SAILING HERO GOES BACK TO HIS ROOTS

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 18 May 2013

AS REGATTAS go, the Scottish Series has it all: a stunning backdrop for the racing courtesy of the dark, densely forested hillsides that surround Loch Fyne; a stretch of water blessed with consistent winds and minimal tides; and a legendary party atmosphere courtesy of the picturesque little port of Tarbert – so busy when the sailing circus comes to town that boats often have to tie up two, three and four abreast beside the pontoons. This year there’s even a bit of star quality thrown into the mix thanks to leading Scottish sailor Luke Patience, winner of a silver medal in the 470 class at last summer’s Olympic Games, who has signed up as official event ambassador. Patience, 26, is from Rhu near Helensburgh, and he has fond memories of attending the Scottish Series as a junior sailor. Like most people who go back year after year, he views it as much as an aquatic gathering of the clans as a win-or-lose sporting event.

“It seems like the whole country comes together for the Scottish Series,” he says. “Obviously the sailing’s amazing and it’s in a gorgeous part of the world, but the best bit is getting to see old friends that I just don’t get to see enough of. I’m living on the south coast of England now and I don’t get to Scotland as much as I’d like, so I love to go back and see all these people that I grew up with. These are really the ones who helped me get into doing what I do.”

Now in its 39th year, the Series runs from 24-27 May. The competition caters for various different classes of yachts, ranging from serious ocean-going beasts like the Beneteau First 40 (a second hand specimen in decent nick will set you back in excess of GBP150,000) to more modestly proportioned and equipped “day boats”. New to the latter category is the recently developed Bavaria B/one, which costs in the region of GBP25,000. Patience will be helming one of these at this year’s Scottish Series, along with a crew of three senior personnel from the Royal Yachting Association Scotland that includes the organisation’s Chief Operating Officer James Stuart.

“For what it is it’s cheap,” Patience says of the B/one. “It has all the hi-tech racing specs of a boat that would cost you twice as much, maybe three times as much. It’s an awesome machine – you can throw it around the course. It’s fast, it’s wet, it’s just a fun boat, so it’s going to be a right laugh, especially if it’s windy.”

Patience accepts that, as an Olympic medal-winning sailor, the pressure will be on him to get a good result on Loch Fyne, but he points out that although his team might look impressive on paper, in practice they will be up against it:

“It’s just one of these things,” he says, of his post-Olympics fame. “You can’t turn up to these regattas without all eyes being on you and you being expected to win, but, you know, I’m just looking forward to having a good time and hanging out with the guys from RYA Scotland… and, of course, I hope we win – we’ll be out there to rip heads off and make it as hard for everyone as we can.

“We’re certainly the new team there – a lot of the guys we’ll be racing against will have been racing together all year round so they’ll have all their roles and all their equipment dialled down. I’ll be arriving fresh off an aeroplane and I’ll have to work it all out with three guys I don’t usually sail with, so we’ll be straight in at the deep end but we’ll see – we’ll see what it brings.”

Sailing doesn’t always work as a spectator sport, and that’s probably putting it mildly. Dispatched to Weymouth last summer to cover the Olympic sailing events, one disillusioned, land-lubbing hack working for a national paper of some renown felt moved to describe it as “the most mystifying and unrewarding spectator sport of all”. Certainly from the shore, when all you can see is a jumble of sails fluttering in the middle distance, it can be difficult to work out what’s going on, but if you’re able to get a vantage point out on the water it’s a different story: from angsty jostling on the start line to sly wind-stealing manoeuvres it’s riveting, tactical stuff. Skippers sometimes find themselves unable to compete in the Scottish Series due to a lack of crew, so if you’ve got some sailing experience and fancy getting in amongst the action, contact the event organisers via their website, www.scottishseries.com.

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