Setting sail for London: Sportsmail takes to the water with Olympic duo


That's the cry from double Olympic gold medalist Iain Percy as the boom of the Star boat comes hurtling towards me.

I avoid tumbling into the water thanks only to the quick thinking of Andrew Simpson, who drags me back into the craft.

Saved! Sportsmail's Martin Domin almost topples overboard

Saved! Sportsmail's Martin Domin almost topples overboard

Andrew and Iain are showing me the ropes at the Olympic Sailing venue at Weymouth Bay and despite doing my best to fall overboard, apparently I'm performing well for an amateur.

'Are you sure you haven't sailed before?' asks Andrew. Apart from a week spent trying out a variety of boats one summer as a teenager, I haven't, but that doesn't stop the Olympic duo insisting I grab the tiller and steer.

After I collect my breath, we attempt the tacking manoeuvre again. This involves turning the bow of the boat through the wind so that the wind changes from one side of the boat to the other. As boats can't sail directly into the wind, it must zig-zag towards it. This time I'm on the ball and slip under the boom as elegantly as I can before grabbing the tiller to keep us on course.

Tower of strength: Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson navigate the waters

Tower of strength: Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson navigate the waters

We spend an hour on the water in the boat that Andrew and Iain won gold in three years ago and what strikes me most is the physical demands of the sport. It's impossible to gauge the effort required when watching from the shore, or on TV, but as I brace my legs on the strap of webbing and hang overboard, the pain shoots through my thighs from the strain. It's no wonder these guys are in the gym twice a day as they get in shape to spend four or five hours on the water every day.

Andrew and Iain have known each other for 25 years and joined forces at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 to win gold. They will attempt to do so again in London next year in what will be the final appearance of the Star class after it was dropped for the 2016 Games in Rio.

Designed in 1911 by Francis Sweisguth, the Star is the oldest class and is known as the 'fleet of champions' as many Olympic and world champions conclude their careers in the boat. The pair compete together in 10 races, with points allocated equal to their finishing position. The best nine from each team are then totalled and the top 10 compete in the medal race where double points are on offer. The overall points tallies are then used to determine the medalists.

Victory: Iain Percy (left) and Andrew Simpson with their gold medals

Victory: Iain Percy (left) and Andrew Simpson with their gold medals

‘We’ve been racing against each other since we were 15,’ Iain explains when we are back on dry land. ‘He always used to beat me,’ chips in Andrew.

Having dominated the British Under 19 age group when they were just 16, the pair realised they could make a career out of the sport.

Outside of the Olympics, Andrew and Iain compete professionally in the America’s Cup but their greatest success as a team came in China.

‘I’d never worked as hard for a competition in my life. That took a tiny bit of pressure off knowing I’d done everything I could,’ Iain explains.

‘We work as a partnership, some of the other teams don’t put as much emphasis on the second guy in the boat, traditionally called the crew, but we don’t work in that way. It gives us a real advantage at times because for me to be able to concentrate on the speed while Andrew focuses on the tactics, or the other way around, is a real advantage. Very few boats have two tacticians on board and although that means a lot of work in terms of communication, the result is better.

On dry land: Martin Domin with Iain Percy (left) and Andrew Simpson

On dry land: Martin Domin with Iain Percy (left) and Andrew Simpson

‘We’ve known each other for so long, we're like brothers. We have arguments but we get on with it. We chat continually, bouncing ideas off each other, it’s a continual communication stream.’

The duo are currently in Perth, Australia for the World Championships as they continue their preparations for London.

‘We've got a lot of improvements to make in ourselves and in the equipment’, Andrew concludes. ‘At the World Championships, our competitors will be there and at their best. They need to qualify for the Olympics; only the top 15 out of around 60 get to go to London. It’s a big event for us to gauge where we're at.’


Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson are sponsored by investment specialist Skandia and sail as part of Skandia Team GBR, Britain's Sailing Team in the Olympic and Paralympic classed. For more information visit

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