“An Albacore,” declares Luke Patience, “is a thing of beauty.”
Given that Patience has been spending the last four years applying various bits of carbon to his latest-spec 470, his admiration for a 1954 wooden classic might come as a surprise.
“When I go home to Scotland my dad has a clinker lug-sailed Scaffie,” he says. “I am a traditional sailor at heart.”
It is five months to go to the Tokyo Olympics and Luke Patience has a spring in his step, because he and crew Chris Grube are North American 470 champions. “Again!” he points out.
In terms of their Olympic medal aspirations, this is good news. They were up against the best in the world at the Miami regatta, including the Australians, Spanish and Swedes who have been dominating the podium at recent 470 events.
“The training we put in over the autumn…you don’t immediately see the rewards,” says Patience.
“But now it’s the Olympic year and it’s about creating a winning habit. The experimenting [with different gear] is down to minor detail now. At the heart of it is execution. We are trying to bring our best game to every competition.”
Patience can recall the first time he “tasted blood” in his youth, racing Optimists at his local club in Helensburgh. “You wanted to win every race after that.”
But these days it’s a more philosophical Patience, aged 33, who is going to his third Olympics, his second with Grube.
Four years ago he qualified for Rio with Elliot Willis, before Willis was diagnosed with bowel cancer months before the Games. He has since recovered.
Meanwhile Patience teamed up with Grube, his crew from youth days, and finished fifth in Rio after less than a year in the boat together.
Patience says: “Elliot’s cancer did change me. It woke me up a little, to realise how lucky we are to even do this.
“It’s a cliché and my enjoyment in the process shouldn’t be taken for lack of work ethic or determination.
“I still hate losing, that hasn’t changed, but I used to need to win to feel like I’d accomplished something. Now I feel satisfaction that a process we put in place was right.”
“It’s directly to do with mental health,” he continues. “Whether we win or lose now, I don’t think it’s the making of me.
“That’s a much healthier and freer way to compete. I think it’s important as sports people that we understand it is a game. A beautiful one, but it is a game.”
If Patience is feeling reflective, perhaps it’s as much down to the knowledge that with the 470 becoming a mixed class after this Olympics, he and Grube have only a few more months of sailing together.
“We use every day and try to do it with a smile on our faces,” he says.
Talking about the World Sailing vote to change other Olympic classes, Patience says: “Sailing has to evolve – materials change, prices change – but I am traditionalist, so I will always love the Star and the Finn and it is sad to see these old boats go. We’re a generation where the giants of our sport came from these classes.”
Looking forward to the Games, the 470 regatta begins six days after the Tokyo opening ceremony. Will he be in the stadium?
“We get to choose and I’d like to be there. The London and Rio opening ceremonies were life-changing for me. At London, Stu [Bithell] and I could not believe the atmosphere.
“I didn’t realise how much positive impact it would have. It served a good purpose.”
Twenty-five years ago Patience was just another hungry Oppie sailor, with dedicated parents who took him down to the club several times a week, and as he progressed would regularly drive him from the Clyde to Weymouth for national squad camps.
“It was funny, yesterday we were towing in after doing a coached session and there was a wee Oppie kid going out with a coach. It reminded me of the amount of sunset sails I did in Scotland.
“That’s what you did – you’ve just finished school, your parents would race you to the club and you’d squeeze in a 45-minute sail. That epitomised my upbringing.”
His parents will be waterside at Enoshima Bay waving the Union Jack as Patience and Grube take to the water in what will be their last outing in the 470. Will it bring them the spoils they so desire?
Patience won silver in the 470 with Stuart Bithell at Weymouth 2012, after which he declared he never wanted to hear the Australian national anthem played again.
“I still don’t! Twiggy [Grube] and I have created something really solid in these years and confidence is high.
“We have a fantastic team around us. The thing for me is that we are able to win boat races in any conditions. It doesn’t mean we always will – we’ll make mistakes, but the others will too.
“If we perform at our best level, we know that’s the best in the world on the right day.”
First published on Yachts and Yachting
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