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Dorset's Sailing Golden Couple

PUBLISHED: 12:41 24 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:26 20 February 2013

Dorset's Sailing Golden Couple

Dorset's Sailing Golden Couple

They love sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, Weymouth, and being parents. Karenza Morton meets Nick and Sarah Dempsey. Photos: Richard Langdon

Sailings Golden Couple


They love sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, Weymouth, and being parents. Karenza Morton meets Nick and Sarah Dempsey. Photos: Richard Langdon

Interview over, dictaphone off, Nick Dempsey stands up from where hes been sitting in a Portland Marina bar for the past 30 minutes and extends his hand across the table to say goodbye. You will make it sound like we really love living in Weymouth, wont you? he asks. Because we do, we absolutely love it here.
There is no danger about that, Nick; you did a good enough job of convincing me on-the-record. Nick and Sarah Dempsey (or Sarah Ayton, as she is better known) are Olympic sailings golden couple. Together since they met at a major Youth World Championship event in South Africa in 1998, the couple have been powerhouses in Britains all-conquering Olympic sailing team for the past decade.
Between them they have two Olympic gold medals, one Olympic bronze and three senior World titles. And next year, Nick will aim to add to the familys Olympic collection when he, all things being equal, does battle for Team GB in the RS:X windsurfing class on their home waters of Weymouth and Portland at the 2012 Olympics.
In their 10 years as adopted Weymouth residents, the couple, who both turn 31 this year, have seen the town become the hub of British Olympic sailing, transformed from somewhere with superior sailing conditions but poor facilities to the home of the world-class Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy and the venue for the London 2012 Olympic sailing regatta.
It is something neither ever envisaged when they first moved to Weymouth in April 2001, as Peterborough-raised Nick explains: We moved to Bournemouth and rented a flat after the Sydney 2000 Olympics. But when it came to trying to buy, house prices were rocketing and, quite simply, Weymouth was cheaper than Bournemouth.
Weymouths always been a sailing place, but when we arrived there wasnt even talk of an Academy let alone the prospect of an Olympics. The sailing was still based at the leaky old Navy building and there was no gym. The transformation to what we have now is quite unbelievable, he enthuses.
Sarah, who grew up in Surrey, continues: Everyone asks us what sort of legacy the Olympics will leave and the biggest thing is the opportunities its created for kids to sail. When we first arrived you wouldnt ever see kids out on the water but, thanks to groups like RYA OnBoard, SailLaser and the Chesil Trust, who have all done loads of work to get kids sailing for as little as a fiver, there are always kids out on the water sailing or windsurfing. Its totally changed.
Now, anyone in Britain who is serious about becoming an Olympic sailing champion, whether next year or in 2020, spends huge amounts of time training and living in Weymouth and Portland. Many have followed the Dempseys lead and made the area their home, creating a close-knit sailing community and enhancing the already internationally envied spirit in the British team camp.
The Academy frequently hosts the worlds biggest Olympic and Paralympic classes sailing events with the best sailors from across the globe regularly based in the area for training and competition. But Nick insists the areas appeal reaches far wider than simply sailing. As outdoor people its a great place to live. Youve got the Jurassic Coast, youre quick into Devon and Cornwall to surf, it doesnt take that long to get to London, Dorchesters a lovely market town, Bournemouths less than an hour away. There arent many places better suited to us.
Sarah adds: We really love fishing, walking, playing golf; Portlands great for mountain biking and in the summer kayaking has really taken off. When Thomas is old enough and can swim, Im going to get a kayak, go down to Fleet Lagoon and take a picnic. What a great place for him to grow up.
Ah yes, Thomas, the couples angelic toddler son born in June 2009, nine months after Nick and Sarah tied the knot at Moonfleet Manor following their return from Beijing 2008. Sarah had just won her second Olympic Yngling class gold medal, while Nick couldnt quite eclipse the bronze he won in Athens four years earlier in finishing fourth the worst place to finish at an Olympics, he says.
For seven months Sarah contentedly adapted to motherhood and supported Nick as, for the first time, in September 2009, he became RS:X World Champion at Weymouth and Portland. But by January 2010 the sailing itch had returned and when she got the opportunity to return to the water with Skandia Team GBR teammate and fellow Weymouth resident, Saskia Clark, at the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta, Sarah jumped at it.
For the next year the Dempseys lived by spreadsheets, balancing parenthood with the demands of an Olympic campaign. Parents, Thomass nanny, Peggy, and sponsors provided invaluable support, enabling the couple to train and compete all over the world, often with Thomas in tow. Olympic sailing is a very nomadic lifestyle. With Britain unsailable in the winter, sailors are constantly moving from one warm-weather venue to the next. Towards the end of 2010 and into 2011, Nick and Sarah spent almost a month in Australia, then three weeks in Miami, before Nick jetted off for another three weeks in Brazil.
It may sound glamorous but trying to juggle that with bringing up a little boy ultimately proved too much, and following this years Miami Regatta in January, Sarah announced her retirement. With the 2012 Olympics being here I dont think I would have ever forgiven myself if I hadnt at least given a 2012 campaign a go. Everyone our parents, Peggy, Saskia and our coach, Joe Glanfield were amazingly supportive and flexible in trying to make things as straightforward as possible, but getting the balance right between motherhood and sailing was really hard and it was only going to get harder as 2012 got closer.
I felt I couldnt give the two things that needed my maximum attention, Thomas and sailing, the attention they both needed. For a year we managed, but managing is all we did and the prospect of doing that for, potentially, another 18 months was just too much in the end. As much as the Olympics mean to me, there was only ever going to be one winner in that decision.
Now Sarah will pick up where she left off, supporting Nick in his quest to land his first Olympic title. It doesnt stop her being any less excited about the Olympics coming to Dorset, something she hopes everyone else in the area will share come the first race on Saturday 28 July 2012.
Theres always going to be mixed opinions about the value of having the Olympics here, she concedes, But undoubtedly from day one its going to go off. The atmosphere will be great and hopefully those people who may be sceptical will come and experience it for themselves because it will be like nothing theyve ever known.
Nick nods in agreement, adding: Its hard for us to even understand what its going to be like. The roadworks that have been going on here have unquestionably caused a lot of disruption. But once theyve finished, and people start seeing the benefits for the first time, like more people coming to the area and the positive Olympic-related publicity, I think it will fly.
Weve seen it from both sides, as sailors and locals, but we will both be so proud to see the Olympics here in Weymouth and Portland and were sure the people will make the Games feel as welcome as they have made us feel for the past 10 years.

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