How does a lad from a family with zero sailing background end up a 49er European Junior (U23) silver medallist with a fierce Olympic ambition?
With a little bit of help from OnBoard of course!
This summer marked 10 years since the British Sailing Team’s James Grummett, then nine, first stepped in a boat on holiday in Corsica. But learning some basics in Teras and Picos abroad was enough to whet the youngster’s appetite and when the family returned home to Paythorne in Lancashire, he wanted to do it again.
A bit of Googling introduced them to Burwain SC - or more specifically their OnBoard club Sailfish - 25 minutes down the road, and James’ sailing story began.
“I just loved getting out on the water in any boat and being around friends,” James recalls. “I never saw it as an opportunity to be successful I just tried to enjoy myself and that’s always been the main factor.
“At Sailfish it was mostly about meeting new friends and going to social events at the club was always enjoyable. I never thought of competitively sailing or one day I’d have the goal of competing at the Olympics. When I later developed the taste for competing and winning, that’s when it became more about sailing.”
James' first ever race win came in July 2010 at a RYA On Board Laser Bug regatta, when he was competing with 40 junior sailors from across the North West. That year the 11-year-old also got his first Topper and he a group of Sailfish friends got involved in NW Topper Traveller, Junior Traveller and Topper National Series events.
It was after the 2010 Topper Nationals in Pwllheli he returned home determined to apply for ‘Zone Squad’, not that his family knew what that was then! Within two years he had won the NW Area Topper Championship, and was competitive at National level with several race wins and top 10 finishes at national events.
But it wasn’t just his racing skills that were being honed in this period.
James continues: “I was developing valuable life skills, most importantly the ability to socialise with different people. I constantly met new people and was put outside my comfort zone and that’s what helped me grow significantly. I learnt how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, especially in physical situations such as going sailing in the freezing cold. It was a huge character builder.”
As he came towards the end of his Topper career, new high performance boats started to catch his eye and, particularly influenced by seeing the foiling catamarans at the 2013 America’s Cup, he knew that was the direction he wanted to take.
By then he had met Redesmere SC’s Dan Budden on the NW Topper circuit and the pair decided to team up for a 29er campaign. Little did they know then that partnership would take them to the 2015 29er UK National title and eventually their silver medal at the 49er Junior European Championship in Galicia, Spain last summer.
Yet, their journey has not been all plain sailing, and James believes they wouldn’t be where they are now without having learned some tough lessons.
He explains: “At the 2015 RYA Youth Nationals, we were frontrunners in the fleet and had a good chance of winning. But we failed to even make gold fleet. That was one of the most memorable challenges I’ve faced and, following the disappointment of this underachievement, it was extremely hard to feel motivated.
“However, as easy as it can be to just forget about mistakes, I think it’s important to really analyse where you made mistakes and how you can move forward and learn from them. We went on to win the 29er Nationals that summer, which is still my biggest ‘pinch myself’ moment in sailing, because nothing compares to the feeling you get when standing on the top of podium after years of hard work and sacrifices.”
The following year James and Dan were invited to join the British Sailing Team and this summer the pair took 52nd place at the ISAF Sailing World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, just weeks after James had finished his A-levels.
The 19-year-old, who is inspired by anyone with the work ethic and drive to be successful, has now started a Digital Marketing degree in Portsmouth, while continuing to train and race across the UK and Europe.
So many of James’ Sailfish clubmates have also gone on to follow sailing pathways; George Graham is vying for a place in the RYA Laser Radial Youth Squad and Charlotte Gatty has crossed the Atlantic twice in 2018 as a Deck Stewardess on a 58m sloop after working as a Dinghy Instructor at UKSA in Cowes.
Meanwhile, talking about sailing passion landed Olivia Bates a summer placement and a two-year scholarship with Scottish Power during her second year studying at Liverpool John Moores University. Not only did she get a 100% pass rate for her interview speech the panel even requested sailing lessons!
James is in no doubt why Sailfish has proved such a successful breeding ground.
“We just developed a passion in the sport as we all enjoyed it so much," he concludes. "It was such a fun environment and it was so fun being with friends.
“That’s how I feel as part of the British Sailing Team now; it’s fun. Whilst it’s a lot more professional, there is an amazing feeling about being around like-minded sailors with similar goals. Everyone is so approachable and helpful and despite the fact many of us sail different boats, it still has a great team feel about it.
“That’s why I would advise any young sailor to mainly go out and enjoy themselves. Obviously you want to do well, but worrying about results only takes the fun out of it. Do the simple things right, enjoy the sport for what it is and the results will come.”
We couldn’t have said it better!