Gearing up for Cowes Week

I’ve always loved Cowes Week but this is the first time I’m going to be doing some serious racing so I’m actually a bit nervous!

Cowes Week for me is usually a mixture of corporate and hospitality sailing, which is always a good laugh, and we will be doing some of that with Volvo at the back end of the week.

But from Saturday to Tuesday I’ll be continuing my SB20 campaign and taking part in the Grand Slam event. I’m sailing with my coach Ian ‘Billy’ Barker, the Sydney 2000 49er silver medalist, in my team, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve sailed against him when we’ve been training in the 2.4 but never with him seriously. He’s doing mainsheet and it will be really interesting actually being in the same boat.

Cowes Week is such a massive regatta so I just want to make sure I’m starting on the right start line, sailing the correct course, crossing the right finish line and that I remember to hand in my declaration at the end! I’m responsible for the first time ever at Cowes Week so it’s going to be an interesting one.

The whole history and unexpectedness of Cowes Week makes it special. You can get some of the most famous people in the world just turning up and going out on boats and I love the social side after racing, when everyone heads to the bars and chats.

On Friday I’ve got Lee Pearson, the 10-time Paralympic gold medalist equestrian rider joining me for racing. I met Lee at Wimbledon and he was really up for it.

He’s not done much sailing before, and its always been in bigger boats, so he is a little bit nervous but I’ve promised him he will be fine and we will just man handle him across the boat if we need to!

Wimbledon was absolutely amazing. I was there on gold medalist day and it was a special day that lived up to all expectations.

I’d never been to Wimbledon before and I was surprised how small centre court is when you’re actually there. You lose all perspective of size on TV but you feel so close to the players it’s incredible. You also realise how massive some of them are! We were lucky enough to watch Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, the men and women’s number ones, play. Afterwards I was like ‘How do you get on Centre Court again??’ It’s another good incentive to try to win gold again in Rio!

After Cowes Week I’ve got a couple of days’ training in the 2.4mR in Weymouth before we head out to Ireland for the IFDS Disabled Sailing World Championships. The last time I was in a 2.4 was at Sail for Gold Regatta in June, although I’ve done heaps of other sailing and serious racing since then so my race sharpness is good.

The Worlds are in Kinsale, County Cork, which is where the 1720 Europeans were in June. Competing at that event was such a valuable experience as although we weren’t actually racing on the Worlds’ course areas we had to sail through those areas each day so got a real sense of what to expect conditions wise.

It is very much a landlocked harbour with a tidal influence and can be really shifty. I think it could be a tricky regatta that is more about tactics, and a game of snakes and ladders, rather than flat out boat speed.

I think it will be an event where you have to hold your nerve and not get down if you have a bad day because the next day could be your day and someone else struggles.

That’s true in each race too; it will be a case of picking the shifts well, not a particular course side favouring. You might be down the fleet in a race but it only takes one gust that you pick well to accelerate you back up the order so patience will count. You have to stay in a race mentally to see opportunities to get you back on track.

I’m going to Ireland with an open mind. Obviously it would be nice to get on the podium but I will be taking each day as it comes. I’m glad I’ve been to Kinsale and been able to recce the venue though as it all helps with familiarisation and routine.

After the IFDS Worlds it’s pretty much straight back home for the International 2.4mR Class Open Worlds at The Poole Yacht Club in September. Because this event is open to both able-bodied and disabled athletes, Billy my coach will also be competing and I’m really looking forward to seriously racing against him.

I’ve let him use all my best kit for the event and I would love it if he won, it would be brilliant. Every time I go sailing against him in training I get a wake up call as to just how good a sailor he is, it’s scary.

I think it will be really interesting coming in from racing each day and comparing our experiences of the racing, tactics and conditions and seeing if our perspective of each day is the same. There aren’t too many events where you get the chance to race your coach, especially at a serious regatta like a World Championships so it has the potential to be a very valuable learning experience for both of us, and good fun.