TBT: Some Notes on the Optimist Selection Trials 1988 Video

In my last post I linked to a video of the Optimist Selection Trials for the Worlds and Europeans teams, held at Weymouth in 1988. I have to admit it doesn't make the most compelling viewing if you weren't there or don't know any of the participants.

In fact, it isn't that thrilling even if you were there and knew the participants. Nevertheless, in the spirit of Throwback Thursday, I thought I'd mention a few things about it that some might find interesting.

  • It was windy. If you don't believe me, have a look at the gybe mark here. Wait for third and fourth to go round - I think we've all had gybe mark roundings like these. As a kid it was good to see the leaders struggling with these things too.
  • The week before the event (or possibly after - I can't remember for sure) the 470 Olympic Selection Trials took place. They had very little wind for the event, and were pretty annoyed that us Optimists got all the breeze the following week. For the 470 trials Nigel Buckley and Pete Newlands were hot favourites to get selected (they won the 1988 World Championships and the Pre-Olympic event), but Jason Belben and Andy Hemmings won the trials and went to Seoul.
  • On one of the days the RNLI had a helicopter and lifeboat in the area because it was so wild. I don't think they were there just to save me, but I wouldn't rule it out.
  • There were some massive jellyfish on the course. If memory serves, one of the sailors took a chunk out of their daggerboard when they sailed into one at full pelt.
  • The last day they sailed Race 6 after Race 7 (no, I don't know why), and a certain Iain Percy won it. As far as I know it was his first major championship race win, although he's racked up a few more since then. It starts here.
  • Percy's future Star Olympic Gold and Silver Medallist, the late Andrew Simpson, was also there. We were used to seeing him rounding marks just ahead of Iain Percy because they sailed in the Star together, but this time he rounds just ahead but in a separate boat. And here he is taking off on a reach.
  • There are two people on commentary, but I'm afraid I only know the name of one of them - Jim Saltonstall. Jim was the national coach for Optimists at the time, and is credited with being one of the main catalysts for British sailing's performance at later Olympic games. He was certainly an excellent coach. Disappointingly, I don't think he mentions "ferrets" - he used to say quick sailors were like ferrets up a drainpipe. He also used to talk about rounding the windward mark "up amongst the chocolates".

I'm going to be honest, I was pretty reluctant to mention my own performance in this event. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll get away without talking about it - my family and friends wouldn't let it pass. Let me start by pointing out that I was 12 at the time, and also that I had never sailed in conditions like this before.

Ok, excuses over.

  • You can spot me quite easily because my sail had a blue panel across the middle. This would have made it easy for the Race Committee to spot me over the line had I been anywhere near the line at any of the starts. But I wasn't. I made a conscious decision to avoid the melee at the committee boat end because, with all the wind and waves, I would almost certainly have put a hole in someone else's boat. Despite being very line shy, and avoiding the crowd, I still managed to get a couple of starts that weren't completely horrible, like this one in the last race we sailed.
  • My friends and family used to enjoy watching this moment a lot. My boat was called Out of Africa, and they would delight in the fact that the only time I was mentioned by Jim Saltonstall in the entire commentary was to be described as "almost out to lunch". Not my finest moment...
  • ...and yet not my worst. I was fortunate that the really bad bits of this windward mark rounding weren't quite caught on camera. What actually happened was that I rounded the top mark and tried to bear off. But I couldn't actually manage it, and instead I go flying off the right of the picture. Off screen the boat tacks on me (not my decision) and a few seconds later I reappear on port. I go into an out-of-control gybe and nearly broach (again).At this point I remember looking at the leeward mark, about a mile downwind of me, and thinking about the prospect of sailing a run in this manner, and then having to slog my way upwind again. And I decided that, in the interests of living until I was 13, I would head for home.

I finished in the mid-40s out of 60 boats, which was neither a disaster nor an achievement. But I did learn a lot. One of the main things I learned was that it is worth finishing every race, especially in breezy conditions. So many boats retire, either through gear failure or because they look at the leeward mark a mile away, having broached twice in quick succession, and decide to head for home. Just finishing almost guarantees a half decent result.

Oh, and I did get better, I promise.

6 thoughts on “TBT: Some Notes on the Optimist Selection Trials 1988 Video

  1. Great job. One of my goals this year is to finish every race. I always used to – and even won the odd trophy just because I hung in there in every race when others didn’t. But the last few years I have been wimping out early . This year will be different!

  2. That’s a very good goal – it almost always makes a difference.

    Although I was at an event a couple of years ago and in the penultimate race my clew strap came undone halfway through the race. I finished that race and then tried to re-attach the strap but couldn’t do it – even with the help of a rescue boat (it was blowing a 4 to 5 and we couldn’t find a position that would allow us to get it back on).

    I decided to sail the last race anyway, on the basis that lots of other boats wouldn’t finish it – it being the last race of a breezy-ish day. So I struggled around the course (with the wind steadily increasing) with no vang tension upwind, and a bizarre shaped sail downwind.

    And when I finished and got in I found out that my result was still my worst of the weekend and I discarded it anyway.

    Bugger.

  3. Yes. I guess that sometimes that last race is your throwout. But when I look back on the times I have stuck it our all the way through every race in heavy weather, it has almost paid off in the results or in personal satisfaction. I think I am going to have write a retrospective blog post retelling some of those “last race” stories from the last few years.

  4. Definitely do – I’d love to read that.

    It’s true, too – even though it didn’t pay off results-wise, I still got a lot of satisfaction from having battled around the course that day.

  5. Damian,
    I just found your blog (#fantastic) and have fwded the link to Rob who will enjoy boring my nephews with his moments of glory.
    I watched a bit of ‘1988’ and reckon it is only Oppies that could have survived that, any other class would have been abandoned and been thinned out to the bowling alley.
    Looking forward to going through your previous posts.

  6. Thanks Dan.

    Rob? Boring? Boasting about his moments of glory? I can’t imagine such a thing.

    You’re right about the Oppies being the only class that would have raced in those conditions. Even the Olympic 470s said they probably wouldn’t have raced on two of the days that we did.

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