Competing in the RS Games in Weymouth provides a taste of the Olympics but with a vibrant social side

I’m pretty sure I’ve never raced in a 156 boat one design fleet before and I’m absolutely certain that even the biggest fleet I’ve sailed in hasn’t had one mass start. But as we reach the halfway stage of the week long RS 200 National Championships and step ashore from another seven hour day afloat after having sailed just short of 7 miles to the start area and the same back, the RS Games here in Weymouth is proving to be an extraordinary event. If nothing else, it has taught (or reminded depending on your age), hundreds of people to gate start.

With a total of 524 boats entered across all nine of RS’s dinghy classes and 880 people, this mass National Championships is an enormous event that has proved extremely popular with amateurs and pros and has attracted some of the country’s top sailors.

And while the event is a mixture of serious sailing and super serious social, the standard of competition is extremely high. In the RS200 class we have several Olympic sailors such as the match racing sisters (in separate boats), Lucy Macgregor, Kate MacGregor, 49er sailor John Pink, 470 sailor Stuart Bithell and none of them have yet taken the top spot in the overall results.

Racing on the same course areas as the Olympics next year has so far proved to be an enlightening experience. Even in just the first three days of our racing in the 200s we’ve had everything from ghosting conditions to a full on foam-up downwind in big waves. There is simply no doubt that this is one of the best sailing venues in the UK, possibly in Europe and can dish out the widest variety of conditions. Here it is no use being a light weather specialist or a heavy weight guru, Weymouth can change its mood in a few hours, especially when the tide turns out on the southernmost course area. Variety like this sifts out the true championship sailors whether it be to find a National Champion or an Olympic medallist.

But once again the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy (WPNSA) has proved that it is not just about the Games in 2012. This facility provides a superb venue for the biggest championships that any class can throw at it. The dinghy park alone swallows up 524 boats with ease. There are no real queues for the slipway, no bun fights for the hose and plenty of space to rig, fiddle and fettle.

The organisation of the event itself is also extremely impressive, with a largely volunteer staff that has provided great race courses as well as every facility you could want for ashore. There are rules seminars, tuning clinics and a buddy system that pairs you up with rock stars in your class to help you find out the settings and techniques you should be using. There is more help here than you can hope to absorb.

In the evening the nightly social events range from meet and greet sessions with others in your class, to human table football in a giant inflatable bouncy castle type pitch to barbeques and black tie dos.

Having spent so much time here recently for events like Sail for Gold and the Olympic test event, it is fantastic to see how the facility provides for so many other types of sailor. Many of who will doubtless be pointing at the television screen next year during the Olympics saying, ‘I’ve raced there!’

I know I will be.