diamond geezer

 Sunday, August 12, 2012

I went to the Olympics again yesterday.
This time I journeyed to Weymouth for the sailing.
London 2012's not all about London, you know. [twelve photos]

Sailing - the venue: Weymouth Bay
The Serpentine's not big enough for sailing, so the Dorset town of Weymouth stepped up to host the maritime programme. Its spacious bay has always been popular with sailors, with marina facilities established in Portland Harbour behind the protective bar of Chesil Beach. London 2012 have built a new sailing academy at Osprey Quay, then dropped umpteen buoys across the bay to create five challenging courses. It's a lovely location, a natural arena, surrounded by sandy beaches, low cliffs and Jurassic coast. To get there requires a three hour train journey from the capital, to a station where you'll be glad to hear there is magenta signage, plus a set of Olympic rings in Portland Stone plonked by the taxi rank outside. It's a very short walk to the Esplanade, where the contemporary deckchairs and Punch and Judy have been augmented by temporary Games-time attractions. A big screen on the sand for watching events, plus a brilliant have-a-go sports area for kids staffed by Dorset volunteers, which was hugely better than the limp equivalent I saw in Hyde Park. Many of the yachts in the town's harbour have Olympic bunting hung from their masts, creating an even more colourful display than usual. The entire panorama can be seen from the top of a temporary observation tower, where a doughnut shaped cage rises from the quayside above the mouth of the river. You want fish and chips, it's a short walk away, both much cheaper and hugely tastier than the portions served up in London's Olympic Park. The town's making the most of its time in the spotlight, with purple-clad ambassadors dishing out tourist maps, and a genuine sense of pride and pleasure at being a key part of it all. Portland's rather quieter, the marina open only to competitors and officials, while a stream of shuttle buses transport non sea-going folk to the other side of the bay. Every manhole cover nearby has been sealed with a plaster of Paris crown, even those along Chesil Beach, for the sake of security. The Australian sailing team have adopted The Cove House Inn in Chiswell as their "official pub", where no doubt they retreated last night to celebrate (and commiserate) their silver medal. A lovely area at the best of times, even better sprinkled with Olympic magic.

Sailing - the event: Women's Elliot 6m medal races
It's not the easiest spectator sport, the sailing. Normally Olympic races take place out at sea, but here at Weymouth at least one of the courses is deliberately close to shore. That's been a controversial decision for some of the sailors, who'd rather be further out in more predictable winds. But it's given townspeople and visitors a chance to watch the action, so long as they're situated on the right side of the right headland. LOCOG have taken over The Nothe, in particular the grassy slope below Weymouth's coastal fort, charging entry for an Olympic sailing event for the very first time. What locals will have known, and visitors may have found out, is that neighbouring slopes had almost as good a view and were free. But a better free option was on the rocky foreshore immediately beneath The Nothe, past signs saying "Risk of being cut off by the tide. No Public Access". Hundreds summarily ignored the advice, edging round the narrow unsubmerged strip and sitting on the rocks or stone wall. Beyond a flimsy temporary barrier those with official tickets lounged on the grass and bought ice creams from the official Cadbury vendors. On our side it was suncream on, sandwiches out and binoculars at the ready. But the other lot had one huge advantage - they knew what was going on. On this final day of competition only four yachts were out, competing for medals, and it wasn't entirely clear to us how any of this worked. No obvious start line, no overview of the course, and no idea when another pair of boats set off precisely what they were competing for. The battles looked exciting, zigzagging tactically across the bay, but was this the battle for bronze, or the deciding race in the best of five for gold? I missed the Australian capsize, and I'd given up long before the victorious Spanish trio finally sped home. But another fascinating afternoon of sport to add to my Olympic collection and, for Weymouth, a bit of a triumph.

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