“Vision is where everything begins”
British sailor, Luke Patience, on winning an Olympic medal, spending lockdown on a tiny Scottish island, and learning to read the subtleties of the ocean
18 October 2020
Sailing has been my sport since I was seven years old and I am 33 now. I have spent a long time on the water, being exposed to direct sun and its reflections. I had started to see slugs diving across my vision and when I looked at my eyes in the mirror, I saw that there was a wee lump on the white part of my eye. I had an eye test and the optometrist told me that my vision was fine, but I had to be really careful and wear my sunglasses because I had UV damage.
Sunglasses are my best protection. When I am out racing my boat on the water, it might be quite an overcast day, and you could think ‘Well there is not much glare, I don’t need to wear my sunnies.’ You absolutely do because there is still glare through clouds. You can still get UV damage.
What is really good is having a selection of different lenses. I need to wear the right lenses on the right days. Some enhance the light and some are darker, and the polarized lenses allow me to see contours when there is a huge amount of glare.
Vision is where everything begins. It is colour; it is how you interact with people and read. I couldn’t imagine a world where I couldn’t see. A lot of vision loss is preventable. I am really hoping that I don’t look back on these years if I am not able to see anymore and think ‘I wish I could have done more’.
There are no lines written in the water like a tennis court or a running track. It is for you to carve your way through however you think is best
Sailing is almost entirely a decision-making sport. We gather our information for decision-making visually, through our eyes. We have to assess what we see, make a decision and act on it. If we have bad races it is fundamentally because we didn’t gather enough facts to make a good decision.
If you go into the detail of our sport, one of the hard things is that the wind – our engine – is invisible. When I look out at the ocean, I don’t just see water. I am trying to assess tiny differences in colour, to see if the ripple or waves are slightly higher in some places than others.
Those minute variations tell me if there is more wind. It is the water painting a picture for you. Reading the ocean is a skill that you get better at. You just need to have the patience to really look – not just to glance – but to stare and see the differences.
The best thing about sailing is the creativity and the adventure of it. It is such a wonderful thing. There are no lines written in the water like a tennis court or a running track. It is for you to carve your way through however you think is best. It was that that hooked me in the first place. I became addicted to the sport because of how creative it felt.
I spent more time off the water during lockdown than I had since I was six years old. I was in the North West of Scotland on an island called Tiree, which has a population of around 650. I had dreams about sailing. It was weird to suddenly stop something that has been such a normal part of life.
The highlight of my career so far is my Olympic medal in London 2012. There were many years’ work that went into that. The opening ceremony is the memory that I will return to; the power of being in the tunnel at the stadium. We heard people stamping their feet and calling out ‘Team GB.’ When we came out of the tunnel there was this explosion of confetti. That is a memory I will never forget.
British sailor, Luke Patience, won a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics and was selected for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (now postponed until 2021). He is a sailing ambassador for international eyewear brand, Bollé. Bollé is also an official supplier to the British Sailing Team.
• As told to Selina Powell.