Reporting at the Seiko 49er World Championships in Marseille gave me the chance to catch up with Nathan Outteridge who was fresh from his rollercoaster year in San Francisco as helmsman of Artemis Racing’s AC72.  

He and fellow Olympic Champion, Iain ‘Goobs’ Jensen, were busy putting together a brand new 49er delivered fresh from the Ovington factory, bolting on foot loops and so forth. Not exactly ideal preparation for the defence of their world title, but this would be their only opportunity to check in on progress in the Olympic skiff fleet this year.  

Then again, getting a 49er ready for action in two days has nothing on getting a foiling AC72 ready in just nine days from launch to the team’s first race in the Louis Vuitton Cup. After the team had done a good deal of soul searching in the wake of Bart Simpson’s death in the 9th May accident, once they decided to press on with launch of the second boat it was a matter of learning as much as possible in the shortest time. It was all about prioritising the job list and focusing on the tasks that would yield the biggest gains, discarding the rest.  

Like Ben Ainslie, Nathan is a sailor who appears to have bundles of talent but who behind the scenes works harder than anyone to learn and improve his racecraft. Nathan said he employed the same method for getting to grips with the AC72 as he did when learning to sail the International Moth. “For both boats, I watched as much YouTube video as I could find, and asked as many people as I could to tell me what they were prepared to share,” he says. If he were tackling any other new challenge, he’d do exactly the same. And it was interesting to note that when the girls were doing the medal racing on the final day of the 49er Worlds, Nathan was one of the first there to watch how things were going, getting a gauge on the race course that he and the rest of the top 10 men were about to compete on.  

When it did come to the finals, Nathan and Goobs had a shocking start off the line of the first of the final three medal races, unable to find a way through to the front rank and forced to tack away. It was sort of refreshing to see that even these guys, the Olympic Champions and four-time Worlds winners, are fallible sometimes. At another point Goobs dropped the mainsheet and the boat came on top of them before they recovered their poise. They finished 5th overall, their mistakes costing them a medal, but it could have been so much worse. Two days earlier they were lying in 18th overall, but then a stunning outing in the strongest winds of the week saw the Aussies leap up the rankings with scores of 3,1,1,3.  

“Just like the Nothe course!” Nathan said, referring to the Weymouth course where he won his gold medal. Whacky wind, gusting off the shore. John Pink and Simon Wheeler threaded their way from gust to gust to take the lead in one race, but Nathan sailed his way from 6th to 1st place in the space of just two minutes of sailing as he sailed out of the opposite side of the leeward gate to the boats ahead. A 20 degree lift on port then headed 40 degrees, so he tacked and sailed along a 20 degree lift on starboard to seize the lead from the Brits.  

Down the final run Nathan and Goobs were leading nicely and about to make the final gybe to the finish when, according to Nathan, it gusted up from 8 to 24 knots in seconds. Goobs never gybed the kite, but instead kept it firmly strapped to windward while Nathan let the mainsheet run out to the shroud. It wasn’t pretty, and I’ve never seen these guys need to do a safety gybe. But it worked. The same gust saw Pinky and Simon topple in and lose their 2nd place in that race, although they managed to get back into the 10 boat final through the repechage system that now exists in the 49er class’s ‘Theatre Style’ racing format.  

From a British perspective it was a disappointing regatta, with 4th-placed Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign gutted to miss out on a medal by just 3 points, the two Kiwi teams taking gold and silver, and a French crew taking bronze. In the inaugural 49er FX Worlds, Frances Peters and Nicola Groves went into the last race with a great shot at silver or bronze. I love watching them execute their port tack starts underneath the fleet. When it works, it works beautifully, as it did in the first race of that day when Frances and Nicola crossed the finish line comfortably ahead. But in the final race, claiming the right hand side did them no favours as the breeze came in stronger on the left.  

The British girls finished 8th, with the medals going to New Zealand, Brazil and France. But there is plenty more to come from Frances, Nicola and the rest of the British FX squad. The standard of boathandling and race management in a class that it is still less than a year old is very impressive. The FX is creating the same buzz of excitement as the 49er did for men’s Olympic sailing 15 years earlier.