Why sailing is not a spectator sport

The action is out there but, asks Chris McGrath, does anyone actually know what's happening?

Now this, plainly, is where they should have staged the beach volleyball. There's plenty of room, after all. On a perfect holiday lunchtime, the great sandy crescent of Weymouth Bay yesterday stretched under the sun. The top end, away from the big screens, lay almost completely deserted. Most of the guesthouses along the elegant Georgian esplanade forlornly advertised vacancies. And even as the nation toasted the most decorated sailor in Olympic history, the regatta that was supposed to fill every bed in the town itself slumbered, on the face of it, as arcane and remote as ever.

Ben Ainslie had contrived to win that fourth gold by finishing ninth of 10 in his medal race. Surely all this Byzantine scoring, all that tilting and bobbing on the horizon, qualified sailing as the most mystifying and unrewarding spectator sport of all? And surely even Britain's growing infatuation with the Games could not justify anyone actually paying for the privilege of squinting from a hill where they are proud only to take Visa.

Well, as it turns out, that is the limit of their folly. For it is perfectly possible to get very nearly as good a view for nothing – from the old harbour wall; from a knoll beyond the ticketed area; from the narrow shoreline just beneath the Nothe Fort itself. And these places also, surprisingly enough, provide a genuine ringside seat.

The Duchess of Cambridge was viewing proceedings yesterday from a launch but might well have preferred, as a royal box, these royal rocks instead. And if it's good enough for Brad Funk, it should certainly be good enough for any layman driven nuts by a fruitless quest for Olympics tickets.

Funk narrowly missed out on representing the US here, but his wife, Anna Tunnicliffe, is fancied for gold with the women's match racing team. And here was this Funk dude from Florida, watching the fleet from a boulder, savouring the tang of salt and seaweed, as kids dredged rock pools and the cognoscenti peered into binoculars.

True, those beyond the steel fences round the ticketed area, just a few yards away, had a big screen and commentary to elucidate the intricacies of the regatta. But here on the waterline the race unfolded quite intelligibly within a few hundred yards. "This is great," Funk said. "You don't quite get a bird's-eye view on the shifts, like they do up the hill. But you're really in the action here. For spectators, this must be one of the best Olympics in history."

The sailors themselves have paid a heavy price for that. The winds beneath the Victorian fort are notoriously fitful, yet have to be harnessed precisely when the stakes are highest. "Mother Nature can throw you a curveball out there," Funk said. "There's no trends, no consistency. You can sail spot on all week, and then find a random element thrown into the medal races. It's unfortunate, but they're trying to give them a show."

Even with so lavish a concession –one likened, by experts, to staging a downhill race over slush and ice for the sake of a better view – it may leave the public bewildered, unless they have first made an effort to grasp the series standings and ramifications. The alternative was to join the families crowding into a fan zone, back on the beach. Yes, there were people here after all. On Sunday, they said there were 15,000 watching Ainslie on one big screen and Andy Murray on another. Their children, this famous "inspired generation", teemed into the adjacent sports arena and tried out all manner of sports, on and off the water. That's gratis, too.

And, if all else fails, there is always that view across the cobalt and emerald bay to the Purbeck Cliffs: priceless. If you can't quite see the sailing, or even if you just don't see the point of it, you can still see the best of Britain.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'