The refinement process of Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson's racing campaign extended to a two-year development with Clarks to create the ideal footwear for their Star class dinghy

Olympic Gold medallists Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson are used to aiming high and hitting their targets and, thanks to the highly complex nature of the Star they sail, they look at every aspect of their World Championship and Olympic campaigns in minute detail. But even they were surprised at how much what they wear on their feet could affect their performance.

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“We’re used to the development and refinement process in a campaign,” says helmsman Percy. “But the Star class has had 100 years of improvement since it was first launched, so it has been pretty hard to better that evolutionary process. But to succeed at this level you have to.

“You could say the same about the sailing shoe, but over the last two years through a detailed design, testing and analysis programme with Clarks, we’ve been through a surprisingly similar process and developed a great selection of performance sailing shoes and our very own bespoke dinghy boot.”

Getting a grip

“Footwear is clearly important because of grip,” he continues. “When a lot of water is coming in over the side and with smooth glassfibre surfaces to stand on, you would think you’re fighting a losing battle. But working with Clarks, we’ve created something new that works in this really hard environment.”

Percy’s crew Andrew Simpson spends a great deal of time on his feet and he explains: “The dinghy boot we developed in collaboration with Clarks has made a huge difference. As well as balancing the boat, you need to move forward and backwards at critical times with absolute precision and for this you simply can’t have too much grip on the hull itself.

“One of the key issues was getting the sizing exactly right for us. To do this Clarks needed to understand how a sailor’s foot might differ from the norm as well as appreciate how hours on end hiking over the side of the boat affects what we need.”

The requirement to hike hard for long periods put demands on the Clarks design team to develop a boot that worked on both its sole and its top.

Having been forced to pull out of the European Championships in 2011 with a foot problem, Percy and Simpson know only too well how crucial sailing footwear can be.

“I woke up in the middle of the night and my foot had grown about four sizes and was absolutely throbbing,” explains Percy. “I couldn’t walk on it and we had to drop out of the event. My doctor said that the problem lay with too much point loading through the hiking. I had burst a lot of blood vessels on the top of my feet and that had spread around and filled up my foot.

“So having this opportunity to work with Clarks was superb and timely as it meant we were able to develop a boot that provided ample protection as well as a robust serrated effect which makes hiking much more comfortable.”

While the dinghy boot created with Clarks is not yet available to the public, key developments were fundamental to the design of deck shoes in the exciting new performance sailing collection – in particular Outdrive Drift, which has also been tested by the sailors in anger. This model includes details such as the ‘Rock’ rubber sole with micro siping for superb grip and channels in the heel to expel water.

First across the line

“We tested Outdrive Drift on last year’s Round the Island Race when the entire crew of our TP52 wore this product for the 60-mile event,” says Percy. “And Clarks were first across the line in their first race!”

This was a superb platform on which to launch an entire range of sailing footwear, including the Orson Lace deck shoe which includes Atsu, a massage footbed designed to invigorate your feet for comfort. It proved so successful the initial production run sold out in two months. The Outdrive Cove is a cut-out sandal version of the Outdrive Drift.

So while Percy and Simpson have gone into every detail to make sure their campaign gets off on the right foot with the dinghy boot, the exciting new range is reaching all areas of the marine scene.