One is Britain’s greatest ever Olympic sailor, the other a 47-cap England rugby forward – but last weekend they came together to steer the largest of boats in a race around the Isle of Wight.
Ben Ainslie, who will go for an historic fourth gold medal in Weymouth at the end of the month, joined forces with Harlequins No. 8 Nick Easter for the 81st J.P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race.
Macclesfield-born Ainslie was at the helm of the 160ft classic schooner Eleonora, the largest boat ever to sail in the race, with Easter part of its 20-strong crew, battling a 53-mile course.
It gave Easter the chance to experience Ainslie’s profession – despite the huge difference between sailing Eleonora and the latter trying to take his beloved finn class boat ‘Rita’ to Games glory.
And it came after Ainslie spent time training with Easter’s Quins team-mates last year.
After finishing the Round the Island Race in 6hrs 49mins, both praised the qualities of each others’ sport.
“I did a bit of training with the Harlequins last year which was great fun,” said Ainslie, 35.
“Nick wasn’t actually there but he is obviously a fantastic player and it was great to have him with us on the boat.
“I’m sure he enjoyed sailing Eleonora as she is a really beautiful boat and it is a real privilege to be on board.
“I think there are a lot of similarities between the rugby training and the training we do for Olympic sailing.
“The rugby players are generally quite big guys and for the sailing I do I’m also trying to put on a lot of weight, and do a lot of weight training, so it was really useful to spend a day with those guys.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was great to have Nick out in the race to do a bit of sailing.”
Easter, speaking ahead of the J.P. Morgan Premiership Rugby 7s series that starts at his home ground on July 13, wasn’t shy afterwards in saying that his maiden sailing voyage had proved tiring.
But he was pleased with the work-out ahead of the start of pre-season training with Aviva Premiership champions Quins this week.
“The winching I was doing was probably a good little warm up for going back to training,” said the 33-year-old.
“It doesn’t matter how fit or unfit you are as soon as you do new exercise it is going to be tiring as it is something that your body isn’t used to, but it was good.
“I’d do it again. It would be nice to try and win the race because I don’t think they had any hopes given the size of the boat, but that is the competitor within me I suppose.
“Ben appreciates what is going on with rugby and he came down to Quins.
“He keeps himself in good shape and that’s what training is about and it requires a lot of stamina to do what he does.
“Both sports require physical ability, strength and stamina, although rugby is a very intense powerful sport and is over 80 minutes, whereas sailing is pretty much half a day and requires a lot of staying power.
“I wish Ben all the best at the Olympics, and I think that gold is in the bag.”
The J.P. Morgan Premiership Rugby 7s Series kicks off on July 13 at Harlequins, with rounds at Sale Sharks and Gloucester Rugby, and the final at Bath Rugby. Visit: www.jpmorgan7s.com to find out more.