Golden boys of sailing take an unusual bow

Iain Percy and Ben Ainslie compete - even in fun.

Iain Percy and Ben Ainslie compete - even in fun.

For once, the two Olympic sailing champions were late getting to the start line, arriving at the Royal Victoria Dock by taxi after lengthy delays on the Barnes to Waterloo line (rail regulators please note).

Iain Percy and Ben Ainslie, respective gold medallists last month in the Finn and Laser classes, do not take kindly to hanging about, as they showed in marshalling crews of motley ability around a course being used this week for the Royal Yachting Association's National Match Racing Championships.

Although each of the four yachts in this promotional race contained Olympic sailors - Britain's other individual Sydney gold medallist, Shirley Robertson, was there, as were Adam May and Hugh Styles, who were sixth in the Tornado class - they also had others who were not even occasional sailors. Some were Olympic rowers like Luca Grubor and cox Rowley Douglas, from the winning men's eight, and two members of the women's quadruple sculls silver medallists, Bev Gough and Elise Laverick. Others - myself included - fell into a sub-section of not sailor, not rower, not much use.

Percy and May, the guiding lights of our craft, bore up stoically to the challenge of organising its four other occupants - with only partial success. Percy, an economics graduate from Bristol University, has a laid-back approach which puts one in mind of Jamie Oliver knocking up a pukka curry. Even though this spin around the Docklands lacked some of the intensity of Olympic competition the competitive gene that is part of a champion's make-up could not be entirely denied.

In truth, it took hold even before the yachts had got under way. Glancing across to Ainslie's boat, Percy observed: "There goes the most competitive man in the world... he even wants to be the first to be ready."

The smile which accompanied this remark spoke of long experience. The two schoolfriends - both attended college in Winchester - have been sailing together for the last 15 years. Initially rivals, both have established themselves as the dominant force in their events. They emerged from Sydney to a welter of media invitations and offers from agents keen to maximise the appeal of two clean-cut young British champions.

"It was a relief when we both won in Sydney," Ainslie said. "If one of us hadn't achieved our ambition, it would have been difficult for both of us. That was what made it extra special."

The plan now is to move up to racing larger boats, with a view to sailing transAtlantic events or - if Britain can mount a challenge after a 20-year hiatus - the America's Cup. "We realise that we are a neat marketing package after Sydney," said Percy, "but the most important thing for us is the sailing. We have a lot of respect for each other and our styles are complementary. I am probably stronger on the technical side, while Ben is more the raw instinct steering talent. It would be nice to think we could be involved in something like the America's Cup - it's an anomaly that Britain has not taken part for so long."

The Most Competitive Man in the World - at 23, one year Percy's junior - won the first of the two races around the dock and finished second in the other.

He was given something extra to think about at the start of the second run in the form of an almighty thump imparted by the bow of our boat, which Percy - not overly chuffed to have finished last in the first race - directed unerringly at that of his old mate. For a while it was bumper cars before the yachts sorted themselves out.

"There's no drama if there's no smashes," declared Percy airily. Clinging to my rope (attached to the jib, as I recall, but don't push it... ) I could only agree. This time round we moved up one place and Percy, bless him, wanted to race on. These Olympians - they just can't leave it alone, can they?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice
music

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
i100
Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Maths Intervention / Learning Mentor

£60 - £80 per day + Mileage and Expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: We are loo...

KS2 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day + Flexible with benefits: Randstad Education Group: Key St...

Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album