Alexandra Rickham: Getting drenched and getting glam

Alexandra Rickham, who makes up the Great Britain’s SKUD 18 sailing team, along with Niki Birrell writes about Torrential Tuesday, Wacky Wednesday, finally winning gold and glamming up for the ball. 20 Jun 2012
A picture of 2 person in a small boat

The Great Britain SKUD team takes to the waters at the 2012 Sail for Gold Regatta.

ⒸRichard Langdon/Skandia Team GBR
By Alexandra Rickham

We were both excited to be going racing but not happy about the prospect of having to spend three races sat in wet clothes.

Well it has been a whirlwind few weeks here in SKUDland. Last week was Sail for Gold Regatta. Aside from Miami OCR it is the only World Cup event we haven't won. Though this was not an outcome focussed regatta, Niki and I find it hard not to put our all into trying to win. The great British summer which had made a short appearance for a week previous decided to go on strike. So a week of wild wind ensued.

The regatta coincided with the Jubilee Double Bank Holiday which was unfortunate because we didn't get to join in with celebrations but happily we managed to attend one party hosted by the RYA. The Jubilee Thames pageant we are happy to say was organised by one of our most dedicated supporters, Rosanna Machado and was a credit to all her hard work. I was sad not to be able to accept the invite from Motability to take part on Gloriana. The nature of what we do turns things a bit upside down quite often, so no bank holiday fun for us.

Day 1 was the calm before the storm. So calm we nearly didn't race. The first race was not our best showing as we rounded the first mark in fifth, then managed to take the lead, which we then lost and finally crossed the line in third, behind the new found form of the Canadians and Aussies.

Race 2 ended up getting abandoned when the breeze fully shut down.

Day 2 has only one word associated with it: HORRIBLE. I'm talking about the weather. I came to the dock and hid under the boat cover because the rain just wouldn't stop and it was all of 13C.

We were both excited to be going racing but not happy about the prospect of having to spend three races sat in wet clothes. No wet weather gear was going to keep us dry on Torrential Tuesday. The weather sucked, but the sailing was good. With the wind building throughout the day, we had everything from 10 to 26 knots.

Clearly my contempt for bad weather was ill-conceived because we revelled in the British liquid sunshine and took three straight race wins. After 5 hours of being cold and wet we got to have our deserved hot showers and dinner.

Day 3 was very much Wacky Wednesday. The wind direction was coming off of Portland and was all over the place. Gusty was an understatement. With about 12-17 knots in the lulls the gusts were blasting by at 20-25 knots.

Both of us had to work really hard. The direction was ever changing, so tactically Niki was really having to focus as gains and losses were being made all over the course.

We had to use the GPS tracking system that day so if you are interested you can watch the Races 5 and 6.

Niki decided to put on a dockside show for everyone when we returned from racing. While de-rigging the boat he slipped off the deck but was luckily holding onto the boom, swung out over the water, decided to let his boots take a dip and very Tarzan-like swung back into the boat and crashed into me. I believe he abused the words “cat-like gymnast” heavily for the rest of the day!

Day 4 was supposed to be off the charts with gale force winds hitting the UK, which meant big ships decided to take cover and park up on our racecourse. Instead of being out and about we got held ashore and eventually canned for the day. It was as frustrating as it can get, but being the leaders allows you to relax.

That afternoon the breeze finally started to come in and we were on a bit of a flood alert with spring tides also on the move. Day 5 was never going to happen with 50 knots as a standard gust we waited until the whistle was blown on all fleets.

Finally, after a string of silvers we could leave Sail for Gold with gold medals. The Canadian Team (Beijing 2008 bronze medallists) had a great regatta and showed they are back in contention clinching the silver, followed by the Australians in bronze.

This result also saw us retain our World Cup title for the third year running. We were really pleased with the result and the improvements we had made from Hyeres six weeks earlier, where the Aussies got the better of us also after only six races. The best thing about the regatta was all three Paralympic classes medalled and they were all almost gold. The GB team is in great form going into the Games.

After a speedy departure from Portland following the Olympic classes success in 8 of the 11 classes, I had to sort myself out for Sail for Gold Ball, this week. Having somehow lost track of time due to training camps etc., a few weeks ago I suddenly realised I was struggling to be ready for the big Olympic and Paralympic Team fundraiser and send-off.

Held on Park Lane and attended by the RYA Patron HRH Princess Anne it is a great opportunity for us all to get a bit glammed up. After several hours trawling the shops, one of my best friends Alexandra Chong suggested a website of fellow entrepreneur Anna Bance might be able to help. Help she did: Anna sent over two amazing Dina Bar-El dresses.

After sending all family members to the website it was unanimous, the fuchsia strapless was the way forward. More shopping ensued for bras, corsets, jewellery etc., I even finally found a new hairdresser for a trim and by the time it all came around I was exhausted.

No rest for the vain though as Niki and I had team duties including spending some time at Accenture (one of the team sponsors) and signing various bits for the Ball auction. The Ball prep is quite funny because the whole team has to sit at a long table signing prints. It looks like some form of factory as it is 150 prints being passed from one person to another.

As you can imagine for the organisers getting everyone to do everything properly is like herding cats. After all of that and a few interviews I, and frankly poor Kaia (my PA) had to get me looking sparkly in under two hours.

There were tantrums, pulling, pushing and rather sketchy transfers. Finally, though I was thinking how lucky Niki was for just being able to chuck on his DJ. I had to say I was looking alright. The whole team was looking alright actually. Amazing dresses showcasing all of the different personalities were on show.

Then everything is a bit of a whirlwind. Reception, then joining the Princess on stage and being presented to the 800 attendees. I have found countless less than flattering photos of Niki pushing me up the ramp for the stage, which frankly scared the life out of me as shown by my facial expression.

After that we sat down to dinner with our guests and enjoyed watching thousands of pounds being spent at the auction. Niki spent the whole auction calculating how many suits of sails all that money could pay for. Then the party began as everyone let their hair down for the last time pre-Games.

The night is an awe inspiring part of GB Sailing tradition which makes you terribly grateful and proud to be part of the Paralympic and Olympic movements.

Now we head to training until the Games. I know many of you have asked when we are competing. The dates for competition are September 1st - 6th in Portland Harbour, Dorset.

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