Crowds gathered at Sydney Harbour on Sunday (21 October) for the inaugural sailing event at the Invictus Games. The support in the bay was immense, with sailors spurred on by cheering onlookers at the shore, as well as friends and family on the spectator boats.
The conditions were gusty and variable as the nine British sailors took to the water, with Spencer Bull first to compete for Team UK in the single-handed Hansa 303 class. Sailing well, Spencer took the lead in the first race before a bad tack saw him taking on water. Frenchman Cyrille Chahboune sailed ahead to take first place.
A strong second race saw Spencer finish in second place behind local Australian David Bretherton and it was still all to play for with double points available in the medal race. Another flying start put Spencer at the front but a wind-shift as the sailors reached the last mark saw Spencer finish in fourth place overall.
Cyrille Chahboune (FRA) secured the Gold medal with Australians David Bretherton and Peter Arbuckle taking Silver and Bronze respectively.
Spencer may have just missed out on the medals, but for the ex-Army man diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) back in 2005, getting back out on the water and competing in front of his family was the real win. He commented: “The opportunity to sail in Sydney Harbour doesn’t come along often, if at all. So to be out here doing this is just the most amazing experience.
He continued: “My medal, is the fact that my family were here, particularly my children (15,13 and 12) and they saw me sailing which I haven’t done in front of them before because I haven’t been able to, so I’m really happy with that.”
The team event was next on the schedule with two Team UK boats competing for a place in the winner-takes-all final. 11 Elliot 7 keel boats took to the water across the three heats, with the top two from each heat progressing to the medal race.
In the first Team UK boat, helmswoman Poppy Pawsey was joined by John Shepard, Sadie Melling and Andrew ‘Pav’ Taylor. With Daniel Majid, Lavinia Goddard, Dave Watts and Debbie Godfrey teaming up in the second UK boat.
Despite strong performances in both their heats, neither of the UK boats qualified for a place in the medal race and both teams took to the water for the third and final repechage heat.
Poppy’s crew sailed another brilliant race, taking the lead until another wind-shift at the final windward mark. A tense battle commenced for the finish line and a photo finish saw Poppy and crew finish in fourth place.
The Gold medal was won by the Australian team of Robert Saunders, Paul Langley, Greg McGrath and Marcus Wilson. With Denmark and the Netherlands securing Silver and Bronze. Poppy’s crew finished in eighth place and Daniel’s crew in eleventh place overall.
Spirits were high for all the Team UK sailors with Poppy commenting: “We sailed the best race that we could have done and it was just incredible. Just to be there with the team and experience it all was just, wow. You can’t top it.”
Lavinia added: “It was phenomenal, the experience of a lifetime. All the training came together, we had a fantastic time on the boat and we loved every minute of it.”
In addition to the thousands of supporters, friends and family, the sailors were also cheered on by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex who took to the water for the racing. The Invictus Games were founded by Prince Harry in 2014 as an international multi-sport event open to wounded, injured and sick (WIS) serving personnel and veterans.
2018 is the first time that sailing has featured at the games. To select a team of sailors to compete in Sydney, RYA Sailability have been working with the partnership delivering Team UK, made up of Help for Heroes, the Ministry of Defence and The Royal British Legion.
There were no medals for Team UK, but for the British sailors the ‘Journey to Invictus’ has been one to remember and it’s certain no one will forget racing in the most iconic harbour in the world. Sailing is open to everyone, no matter what age or ability and it really can change lives.
To find out how you can get involved in disabled sailing throughout the UK visit www.rya.org.uk/go/sailability