Alex Chick

£55 to sit on the grass: Welcome to Weymouth

Alex Chick

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Nick Dempsey on his way to RS:X silver

A hundred and forty-five miles south-west of Stratford lies a small corner of London.

For a fortnight, the venerable seaside resort of Weymouth has been annexed, as it hosts the Olympic sailing regatta.

Garish 'London 2012' branding decorates this Dorset town - yet not even the most brazen estate agent would dare call this an overlooked corner of the capital.

The Olympic experience has not been trouble-free for Weymouth.

With much of the place cordoned off, park and ride prices jacked up and dire warnings issued about overcrowding, organisers almost succeeded in clearing out the town. Hotels are reporting a 40 per cent drop in bookings on the same week last year.

The £10 park and ride fee has been dropped, but you still get the feeling the Olympics would just as soon not bother with all the people.

This feeling intensifies when you discover that tickets for the Weymouth viewing area cost an extortionate £55.

Fans watch from the Nothe (pronounced 'noath'), a fort jutting into the sea from the south end of Weymouth Bay. Over 4,500 of them cram on to a grass bank looking down on the action.

Press are not allowed in, barring a tiny daily allocation. They can either do some actual work in a media hub in Portland out of sight of the action, or gad about in one of the media RIBs bobbing just off the course.

I chose the boat. Partly because I'm workshy, partly because you get a view of the racing and the spectators.

However, as a Weymouth day-tripper I turned up without the sturdy waterproof jacket and trousers befitting the weather. So, like an ill-prepared schoolboy on a field trip, I went out wearing a thin cagoule and shorts. Thankfully the worst of the rain held off.

Behind us, David Cameron luxuriated in an opulent 'Olympic Family' cruiser as Nick Dempsey secured RS:X (windsurfing) silver for Britain.

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Inside our boat, an excited Polish TV crew saw two medals (doubling their all-time Olympic sailing tally) and conducted joyous in-boat interviews a la Rob Walker.

But enough of my lovely day. What about the paying punters?

Seen from the water, the viewing area is pretty basic - a load of people perched on the slope with nothing but blankets to sit on (no deck chairs allowed).

Henman-Hill-on-Sea, essentially.

Now there's nothing wrong with that but considering how much they forked out, you might expect a bit more - especially as it is relatively easy to watch for free.

There are decent vantage points in unticketed areas either side of the hallowed incline.

An accessible sea wall skirts the base of the fort itself, while the slope offers a perfectly serviceable view south of the fenced-off zone.

And how close to the action does this get you? Pretty good as long as they are racing on the Nothe course, which is only one of five courses used at Weymouth.

On this shoreside course were the RS:X medal races, plus the women's match racing quarter-finals - but the men's and women's 470s were over in Portland Harbour, where a binocular-toting eagle would struggle to work out what was going on.

I chose the worst weather day of the Games for my visit, so I wasn't seeing the Nothe at its best. Other said it was perfectly lovely when the sun was out. And I'm sure it was. But worth £55 a head? I doubt it.

Though as tickets sold out, there are plenty who disagree.

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The Nothe - an expensive patch of grass


For 10 days I have been rating Olympic venues. A fun exercise, but flawed since the scores reflect my personal experience not the quality of the venue as a whole.

The quality and excitement of the action, or even the time of day, impacts on scores massively. So the table at the bottom is deeply subjective.

Today's scoreboard, from Weymouth, is the most arbitrary yet, since I did not even make it to the spectator area. Anyway, here goes:

ACCESSIBILITY/FACILITIES: 7/10 - Assuming you're in the right part of the country, Weymouth is easy to get into and there are plenty of - now free - park and ride options. The facilities on the Nothe are fine (or so I'm told) aside from the lack of seating.

VIEW: 6/10 - The race officials try to get as close to the shore as possible without compromising the wind, but the Nothe course is still quite a way from the crowd. Simply put, it's just not a great spectator sport. The fans did get the lovely image of Dempsey swimming ashore to greet his family.

FANS: 7/10 - They shouted plenty on the Nothe, but again the nature of the sport makes it impossible to create the cauldron of noise at other events.

SPECTACLE: 7/10 - Sailors can choose any course they want between two points makes it hard to know how who is winning except at the turning buoys. The Elliott match racing provided much closer action than the RS:X.

X-FACTOR: 7/10 - Weymouth is a world-class sailing facility with a consistently excellent wind. However, you cannot get past the reality that it is cut off from the rest of the Olympic action. Weymouth might be London for a fortnight, but it still feels like the West Country.

TOTAL SCORE: 34/50 - pricey

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Alex Chick will be writing from London 2012 throughout the Olympic Games.

Follow @alexchick81

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