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How to begin the path to an Olympic Challenge
10:19am Friday 29th June 2012 in Sport
WHAT are the first steps on the road to becoming a world champion?
Wednesday nights at the Dabchicks Sailing Club (DSC) in West Mersea seems to be a good place to start.
And if it was good enough for Olympic sailor Saskia Clark — the first British woman, along with helm Hannah Mills, to lift the 470 world title —then it should be good enough for anyone.
Clark, 32, and Mills, 24, also picked up a bronze medal in the Sail for Gold Regatta in Weymouth recently, the venue for this summer’s Olympic Games sailing events — where the pair will be trying to secure gold for Great Britain.
The club runs its popular Sunset Series on Wednesday evenings, one of the biggest children’s fleets in the country, where Olympians of the future can get their first taste of sailing.
And chief instructor Sally-Anne Turnbull remembers a young Clark’s first forays on the water.
She said: “I first met Sas as an eight-year-old at the beginning of her sailing when she really didn’t like it at all.
“I was an RYA coach and had been invited down river — I was a Blackwater Sailing Club member and worked at the Newham Outdoor Education Centre — to help out with beginners’ training and she was in the group of Optimists I was working with.
“I had been told by a parent that she was likely to come and see me as she wasn’t really enjoying sailing but her father wanted her to stay out and do the session.
“Sure enough, she came along and persuaded me to allow her into the coaching boat.
“I sponged her boat out, gave her a sweet, had a chat and eventually got her back in it and sailing.
“From there I got to know her parents and one way and another became involved with the DSC on an occasional basis doing some adult teaching, instructor training and helping set up the women’s evenings — which are still running.
“Once my daughter was old enough to be a member and do the Sunset series and Cadet Week I became one of the many volunteers that the DSC relies on to make it all happen.”
This year 152 children are taking part in Sunset Series with an age range from eight to 18.
Turnbull said: “We do have older participants in the series who race with the young people in the racing fleets and there are 27 of them.
“Port is the club’s beginners fleet, where this year we have a very large number of 29 cadets.
“From there we have 18 in Bronze, 12 in Silver and ten in Gold, all sailing Optimists.
“Jade fleet sails on a Tuesday evening in non-Optimist singlehanders and two-handed boats, and this year we have 20 boats.
“Finally in the fast and slow handicap racing fleets we have 26 and 35 respectively.
“I think it is only Lymington SC who put out a larger fleet than us on a weekly basis.”
The Sunset series is organised by Paul Jackson and his committee on behalf of the DSC sailing committee.
This committee comprises of the safety officer Gordon Eckstein, race officer Roger Sydenham, chief instructor Sally Anne Turnbull, assistant instructor Nick Purdie, webmaster David Page, Anne Beament — Jade fleet and chairman of Cadet Week Will Crossley.
Children can join with their parents as long as they are eight years old by May 1 in the season they wish to start.
Coaching in Optimists is up to 16 years old if youngsters are small enough but if coaching is needed in other types of dinghies then they come along to Tuesday night’s Jade fleet run by Pat Hill and his team of parents and volunteers.
Turnbull added: “Children work their way up to Silver and then Gold depending on their skill and confidence level.
“It is hoped that Gold fleet, who are given lots of support in strategies for racing, will be keen to go and race at open meetings at other clubs and become involved with regional and national training, therefore being the talent pool for the future. This year one of our Gold Fleet, David Labrouche, is the national inland champion in the Optimist.
“Though there is a general focus towards racing we really try to push the idea that sailing is sociable and fun — once you get the hang of the basic idea of how to use the wind and know when to duck the boom.
“At my introductory talk I say that Oppies were designed to get sailors and their sandwiches from the hard at Mersea to where they want to have their picnic and not just for racing.”
And one of Turnbull’s abiding memories is a visit from Clark to the club to meet the young sailors.
She said: “The day before Saskia went out to China for the last Olympics she had time to come down and chat with the youngest sailors.
“I have this lovely picture in my head of her sitting on the pile of sand, that arrives for cadet week each year outside the DSC for playing in, chatting and laughing with the eight and nine-year-olds and them being very sociable with her and asking questions.
“Saskia has been a great role model for the young — and old — sailors at the Dabs.
“We thank her for all the support over the years and wish her — and Hannah — every success this year.
“Bring us back a gold medal.”