Mixing with stars, racing with a couple and being a lucky charm

Olympic champion shares Cowes Week diary with City A.M.

ELBOWING my way forward through the crowds to get a view of the action, I got out amongst it to watch the starts of the Royal Yacht Squadron yesterday. The four super yachts started their round-the-island race and Rambler, the 100ft Ferrari equivalent, looked amazing with its huge code zero crossing the start line at speed. It looked equally impressive four-and-a-half hours later after her circumnavigation with her spinnaker up.

The best start to watch at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week,was the XODs, setting off from the Royal Yacht Squadron start line for the first time. I can’t imagine what was going through the sailors’ minds – trying to decide where to start and how to position themselves for the beat, without hitting other boats, or being buried deep in the pack – really difficult!

I also had the exciting chance to be fifth man in the Extreme 40s’ first race of the day. I was placed with Team Extreme, a boat helmed by Roland Gaebler, the current World Tornado Champion from Germany who sails. My husband Adam and I have managed this once, so hats off to these two – it’s not an experience I will be repeating.

I was on board for the first race of the day and, even though I knew I wasn’t allowed to do anything, I had the odd butterfly in the tummy.

The Extreme 40 is the polar opposite to the Yngling – the boat I sailed in at the Olympics. The Yngling is slow, wet and uncomfortable; while the Extreme may also be wet, it’s certainly not slow. During our race we had very light winds, not ideal conditions, but it was still exhilarating and nothing like anything I had ever done. Best of all we won – their first win – so I got off as their lucky charm and maintain a clean record.

I finished the day by presenting the Ladies Day Trophy to Tina Scott. As the XOD captain she keeps the class and their centenary celebrations going smoothly while competing in her own boat.

The other highlight of the awards ceremony was meeting Tom Tait, the 90-year-old XOD skipper. He seemed very nimble on his pins – and skippering a boat in that fleet? Brilliant. If I can be doing half as much as him at that age I’ll be doing well.

The chat I was least expecting was with Gavin Hastings, ex-Scotland rugby player and an Aberdeen Ambassador, who was down in Cowes for a few days. I saw him on and off during the day and his opening gambit was he was a convert – as a non-sailor he loved the action and the atmosphere.

We discussed that New Zealand’s prime minister had commented on England’s completely black second strip. Gavin recalled facing the All Blacks in Cardiff in 1991, his team in Scottish blue and them wearing white. He reckoned their whole aura disappeared and the strength of their team was diminished.