Weymouth: Shore thing for the Olympics

London's venues are still under construction, but in Weymouth – the site of the sailing events in 2012 – the waters already look ship-shape. Matt Barr takes to the waves in Dorset

On a breezy Sunday morning in Dorset, one of Britain's key Olympic venues is bustling with activity. But in this case, it's not thronged with ant-like construction workers desperately trying to meet the looming 2012 deadline. Instead, the waters of the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, selected to host the London Olympiad's sailing events, are full of flapping sails and colourful craft of every description.

I'm in one of these boats myself – a small Laser-class vessel, ably piloted by Matt, a fearsomely capable 18-year-old instructor for local company Sail Laser. Matt's been "on the water" since he was six. "It's pretty simple once you get the hang of it," he says as he watches my ham-fisted attempts to tack the craft back and forth. It feels like learning to operate a clutch for the first time, but after allowing an alarming amount of water to slop over the side of the boat, I start to get to grips with things.

I'm also beginning to understand what all the fuss is about. After all, my sailing career is a scant half-hour old and I'm already piloting my own boat on the very same waters that will see 2012 Olympians fight it out for a place on the rostrum. Imagine deciding to go for a quick jog on the same East London track Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay will soon be racing on – and the unique opportunity Weymouth gives you to immerse yourself in the spirit of 2012 becomes apparent.

As Matt takes the helm, I settle back to enjoy the speed with which we're skimming across the water. With so many people out on the waves – from Olympic hopefuls to first-timers – the community spirit is almost palpable. "There's a really close-knit sailing community here," says Matt as he cheerily greets a passing windsurfer. "That was Bryony Shaw. She won bronze in Beijing and is one of the big hopes for gold during the Games."

Spend any amount of time here and you'll find yourself talking about "the Games". In Weymouth, 2012 Olympic fever is underway already. While the town's history as a Georgian pleasure spot is still visible in the architecture that graces the town's impressive esplanade, in recent years Weymouth's fortunes have ebbed and flowed. So the decision to make Weymouth and Portland the location for the 2012 sailing events has given a boost to the area's fortunes.

Weymouth and Portland (the latter a six-mile-long island connected to Weymouth by a road bridge) now finds itself in truly heady company. Last year it was rated the fourth best up-and-coming travel destination in the world by the travel website TripAdvisor. The Olympic venue was in eclectic company: the Gold, Silver and Bronze medal positions went to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany; Dangriga in Belize; and Rosario in Argentina. Nevertheless, a presence on any "global emerging destinations" list represents quite a coup.

It's easy to see what's bringing the crowds in. Today's Weymouth is a savvy mixture of the historical and the modern, epitomised by my home for the weekend, B+B Weymouth. This smart offering is a Grade II-listed Georgian seafront building with modern, airy rooms. I ask Jean, the manager, where I should head for my first night in town. He dispatches me to the 17th-century Old Harbour, the historical focal point of the town, where I find a clutch of convivial drinking options. I settle down for a couple of pints at the packed Kings Arms, where the cheerful mood is a compelling argument for the regenerative benefits of a successful Olympic bid.

Still, the water is the main draw for most people, whether it's the town's charming bucket-and-spade beach, or the watersports facilities based at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy (WPNSA).

The WPNSA is set to be the focal point in 2012 and is one of the main reasons why Weymouth was chosen: the centre opened in 2000, providing world-class sailing facilities for Weymouth before the Olympic bid was even launched.

The existence of those facilities would mean nothing if it wasn't for Weymouth's other trump card: the strange set of natural circumstances that have made this the perfect place to be a sailor. "Well, you've got a huge harbour, for a start," says Matt, as we head for a post-sail coffee. "And then the natural aspect of the harbour – it almost sits out in the Channel, protected by nearby Chesil Beach. The huge breakwaters that guard the entrance to the harbour mean it gets winds from every direction."

In sailing terms, I learn, this is A Good Thing. It means conditions are almost always suitable for racing boats – no small matter when you're about to hold the world's most watched sailing contest.

Coffee drained, it's time once again to head out onto the water. This time I am in the company of Roy Griffiths, managing director of Weymouth Charters. Roy's firm, an online booking agency for 25 local charter boats operating out of Weymouth and Portland, has been running only since March. Yet it is already a local success story, firing the enthusiasm of the waterborne community.

"We've got everything from ribs [rigid inflatable boats] to tall ships," says Roy. "It's worked really well – I've had everything from stag dos to client hospitality days recently." For Roy, the Olympics has been the sole catalyst behind this exciting local buzz.

"As a local businessman I've been increasingly inspired by 2012," he says. "Plus, I've been a keen sailor for years, so I know how good our local waters and coastline are."

Eager to prove his point, Roy takes me out on Elstar of Weymouth, an Aquastar 45 Motor Cruiser. It's owned by Weymouth resident Tim Bareham. He was an enthusiastic early adopter of Roy's masterplan, and has the healthily ruddy complexion of somebody who spends more time on sea than land.

"This is the best way of understanding the coastline," says Tim, as we motor out into the harbour. To the east we can just about discern Durdle Door, spectacular focal point of the Dorset countryside, while to the south the strange protuberance of Portland sticks far out into the Channel.

There isn't much to do, other than tuck into the groaning plate of sandwiches proffered by Tim, and enjoy the view. I'm beginning to think that this infinitely more civilised pace is my kind of sailing trip. "It's easy to be cynical," says Roy, "but imagine when the Games are actually on? It's going to be the biggest thing in Weymouth's history."

I have a feeling he's right.

Travel essentials



Getting there

National Rail Enquiries (08457 48 49 50; www.nationalrail.co.uk) has details of rail links from London Waterloo and Bristol, with many more connections available at Southampton.



Staying there

B+B Weymouth, 68 The Esplanade, Weymouth, Dorset, DT4 7AA (01305 761190; www.bb-weymouth.com). Doubles start at £70, including breakfast.



Sailing there

Sail at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy (01305 866000; www.wpnsa.org.uk) Osprey Quay, Portland, Dorset, DT5 1SA with Sail Laser ( www.sail-laser.com). Prices start at £70 per day. Trips on 'Elstar of Weymouth' are offered by Weymouth Charters (01305 832512; www.weymouth-charters.co.uk). The boat carries 12 passengers and costs £1,200 per day.



More information

Visit Weymouth & Portland: www.visitweymouth.co.uk

Visit Dorset: www.visit-dorset.com

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
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

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect