Ulley Reservoir Country Park is a quaint little spot just off the M1 in Rotherham.
Down the road from a country pub called The Royal Oak, and overlooked by towering wind turbines that the few residents who inhabit the tiny village of Ulley petitioned not to be built, the reservoir is as understated as it comes. Calm waters, barely a clubhouse to speak of, a modest boathouse and a simple jetty – it is all the members of Ulley Sailing Club require for their midweek and weekend recreational sails.
Some 3,500 miles west in the North Atlantic Ocean, the picture is completely different.
Fifty-foot catamarans sailing around the crystal blue waters of the Great Sound dominate the horizon, while on what little land there is, sponsors, organisers and hangers-on quaff Champagne, slap backs and revel in the majesty of the America’s Cup.
This is Bermuda, which for the next two months is home to the most fabled and richly-financed sailing match in history.
It is also where a man who links the two places – Ulley and Bermuda – can be found.
It’s a very different challenge. The Olympic Games is all about each sailor having identical equipment, so it’s about who sails the boat best, the hours you spend on the water and who can develop their skills the best. Whereas for the America’s Cup we have a team of about 100 people.Paul Goodison
“I feel like the luckiest lad alive sometimes,” says Rotherham’s Paul Goodison, as he looks out over Bermuda Sound on an afternoon when the sun blazes down and there is barely a breath of wind.
“I started sailing at Ulley when I was four. My mum had just had my little brother and my dad needed someone to go sailing with, so I was thrust to the front of the boat and that’s how I learned to sail, doing it with my dad. It wasn’t long before I was asking for a boat so I could race against him – and the rivalry still goes on to this day.
“My parents are still heavily involved at Ulley Sailing Club and my dad goes there every Sunday.
“Whenever I’m home I go and visit the club and watch and try and help out where I can.
“It brings me back down to earth and makes me smile just thinking about where I started this amazing career that I’ve been lucky enough to have.”
That ‘amazing’ career has already had one notable peak, Olympic gold in the laser class in Beijing in 2008. There was a world title the following year, and one again exactly 12 months ago at the ripe old age of 38.
But this Yorkshireman who has made a career out of waging a lone battle against the unpredictability of the sea, is now part of a huge team hoping to land the greatest prize in sailing.
“It’s a very different challenge,” says Goodison, who is part of a 13-strong crew aboard the Swedish boat Artemis Racing competing for the America’s Cup.
“The Olympic Games is all about each sailor having identical equipment, so it’s about who sails the boat best, the hours you spend on the water and who can develop their skills the best.
“Whereas for the America’s Cup we have a team of about 100 people; engineers, designers, sailors. You have to sacrifice time in the boat to allow the engineers time to implement any upgrades. It’s quite a complex puzzle to solve. The sailors want to go sailing but the designers want to put more upgrades on the boat, so it’s a fine balance trying to get the boat as fast as it can be.
“As an individual, there’s only you to blame and that was kind of a comfort to me, knowing that I had done everything I could.
“In a team it’s about making sure everyone gets the best out of themselves which can be frustrating at times if things don’t work. But, on the flip side, it’s very rewarding when as a team it all comes together. It’s nice to be sharing the journey with a larger group.”
That journey began for Goodison in the months after he experienced a frustrating final Olympics in London.
Already inspired by the Cup’s rich history and the thought of testing himself further, the fire was lit inside Goodison when he saw his great GB sailing team-mate Sir Ben Ainslie help Oracle USA overturn a huge deficit to defeat Emirates New Zealand in the America’s Cup off the coast of San Francisco in September, 2013. It was a story that garnered the kind of headlines that sailing is not accustomed to, and, on the back of it, Ainslie set about cashing in on that fleeting moment in the spotlight by setting up a British team to challenge for the Cup four years later. Goodison was part of his initial crew, but with Ainslie by no means certain of raising the £100m required through sponsorship, the Yorkshireman accepted an offer from Artemis.
Ainslie eventually got the capital required and is in Bermuda now with his LandRover BAR team, one of five crews – Artemis included – who will sail against each other for the right to face Oracle USA next month.
“On one hand it’s quite sad not to be sailing for Ben, but at the time it was an opportunity with Artemis that was too good to turn down,” says Goodison, who now calls the Artemis headquarters in San Francisco his home.
“It’s actually good fun sailing against Ben. What he has achieved is fantastic for sailing in Britain. It’s attracting more people to the sport.
“Obviously, I’d love Artemis to be in the final winning the America’s Cup but if we have any slip-ups I’ll definitely be cheering for Ben to go well and make the final.”
Racing gets underway on Friday with the five ‘challenger’ boats and the defending champion racing against each other in a head-to-head format.
The team in last place at the end is eliminated, while the defending champion advances to the America’s Cup match.
The remaining four face-off in the semi-finals, before the victorious two boats then square off in the Louis Vuitton Cup for the right to challenge Oracle USA in the America’s Cup in a best-of-13 series scheduled for June 17 to 27.
“It’s a long process, and a huge fight to try and get to the face-off for the America’s Cup,” he continues.
“They’re only 20 to 25-minute races but as you can imagine at 40mph you’re covering quite a huge distance in that time.”
Encouragingly for Goodison and Artemis, they have beaten all of their rivals in practice races this month, and have even vanquished the defending champions.
But the America’s Cup is like Formula 1 on water – teams are constantly trying to outsmart their rivals with technological upgrades.
“The gains at this level can be very small,” says Goodison, who takes the position of wing-trimmer on the Artemis boat, which in layman’s terms, he says, provides the driving force to the boat.
If he pulls it off, and joins an exclusive club of Britons to have sailed to America’s Cup glory, Goodison acknowledges it will be hard to split which would be the greater achievement, that, or Olympic gold.
“I just know I’m blessed to have done both,” he says.
Not bad for a lad from Rotherham who only went sailing to keep his dad company.