Lyttle would eventually finish a highly credible 11th in the Laser Class but for Gareth, the Games might have been the one that got away.
‘Ah, I did have aspirations to be an Olympian myself, but I just couldn’t commit the time to train like some of the other guys – I would race in an event in Ireland or further afield into Europe, but then have to come back to work for two or three weeks to earn enough money to compete again,’ says Gareth, as he elaborates on his journey in the sport of sailing that has taken him all over the world during the last half century.
‘It all began in 1976, when I was just six years old. I loved making model boats as a boy and ‘racing’ them in puddles! I had a fascination with boats from a young age, and the interest just grew. My Dad got a part ownership in a boat called ‘The Bay’ at Ballyholme Yacht Club, and I started to crew with him on that. I loved being out on the water. I crewed for my brother in a dinghy, and we travelled around Ireland doing the various events like the Munster and Leinster Championships. When I was 12 or 13 and started to helm, I was beginning to win junior championships and provincial championships,’ he says.
Nowadays, Gareth competes in the First 31.7 Class with Final Call, the team owned by one of the country’s most prominent businessmen John Minnis. The team recently enjoyed success in the Scottish Series, and Minnis himself has been named afloat.ie Sailor of the Month for May. And for Gareth, the love of the sport remains as strong as ever.
‘As a boy, The Royal Yachting Association noticed I was good, they put me on the Northern Ireland youth squad, and I stayed with them until I was 18 years old. I then progressed into the single-handed laser class, which is what Ben Ainslie would have started his Olympic journey on, and that’s when I began to win Junior National championships. That year – 1988 – I also won the National Championships – and at that stage I was the youngest person to do it,’ he adds.
The Final Call team is sponsored by Zerofit, and Gareth has been blown away by the quality of the baselayers produced by the Japanese performance brand.
‘We wear the Zerofit Ultimate baselayer under our Oilskins, and it’s fantastic. All the crew have commented – it’s so comfortable and, as soon as you put it on, you have instant heat. I’ve worn thermal layers for sailing for 40 years – I’ve never come across a baselayer like the Ultimate. It’s remarkable. At sea, once you’re cold, that’s it. You need to start sailing feeling warm. That’s the key. If you’re cold before you go out, don’t go out. One of the crucial differences we’ve also found with the Zerofit is that it’s just that bit looser – other baselayers and thermals we’ve all worn are so tight – so much so it cuts circulation off to your hands, feet and that effects your flexibility – you’re therefore having to burn more energy and it’s just harder work, which then impacts on your performance. With the Ultimate it’s a layer of insulation around you that allows you to concentrate on your job on the boat,’ he adds.
While Gareth and the team compete in shorter races, they also take race in overnight events that can see them on the ocean for between 24 and 36 hours.
‘For those longer, overnight races, it’s always going to be cold when you’re working through the night – you need to be warm and comfortable so you can do your job. The Ultimate lets you do that – and another bonus is because it’s so comfortable, you can sleep in it when it’s your turn to get a precious few hours’ down below,’ concludes Gareth.
INFORMATION: The Zerofit Ultimate retails at £55, and is available from www.zerofit.co.uk – get yours in time for the weekend with next day delivery.