Double-Olympic gold medallist Iain Percy and Star Class crew Andrew Simpson reveal their custom range of Clarks footwear

‘On a boat footwear is so fundamentally important,’ says double-Olympic gold medalist Iain Percy who, with Star Class crew Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson, has teamed up with Clarks to develop a special range of footwear.

Percy and Simpson met PBO during training in Palma, Spain, as they prepare for the Olympic Games, where they told us about their Clarks collaboration. They have had input at every stage of their bespoke dinghy boots, the technology from which then passed into the Orson Lace deckshoe, the Outdrive Drift sailing trainer and Clarks women’s sailing collection.

Vital kit

The importance of the new dinghy boot became apparent at last year’s Star European Championships in Dublin Bay, when the duo were forced to retire because of an injury to Percy’s foot.

The 36-year-old, who was wearing standard-type wetsuit boots, said: ‘I woke up in the middle of the night and my foot had grown about four sizes and was absolutely throbbing. I couldn’t walk on it.

‘I went home to see the doctor and the prognosis was too much loading through hiking – which was great for me as I could finally tell Bart that I do hike!

‘I had burst a lot of blood vessels on the top of my feet and that had spread around and filled up my foot, so I needed to increase the padding.’

Although their collaboration with Clarks started earlier, Percy says his injury and the unique demands that Simpson’s role places on his footwear prompted them to focus their attention. He said: ‘Grip is so important for Bart. If you see him on the water, he’s crouching, jumping around, moving and he steers the boat with his body weight, and that’s very hard to do unless you’re quite “locked-in”.’

Technically-advanced

Simpson sat down with the Business Unit Director and Designer for Sport at Clarks’ HQ to explain what he’d like in his ‘ideal’ dinghy boot and where other boots falter. The result, he says, has made a ‘huge difference’.

‘Clarks have worked hard getting the grip and balance on our feet. They’ve looked at hundreds of sailors’ feet to develop the boots.

Obviously because of what we do your ankles develop in different ways to an average man, so they’ve worked hard on getting the sizing right for athletes.’

The Orson Lace has been updated using the same built-in technologies, making the best-selling shoe even better. It is now the most technically- advanced sailing shoe on the market with Clarks’ usual craftsmanship and innovation also coming to the fore.

Development and trial

The dinghy boot, which has exactly the same sole as the Outdrive Drift, was developed in many of the same ways that Percy and Simpson develop a boat.

‘Clarks designers start with a few parameters that you put in as priorities and you work from there, like you would for a boat or sail design,’ said Simpson.

‘They see the same attention to detail, the same testing process, lots of versions, trialling, feedback, next development,’ added Percy.

It began two years ago with Percy and Simpson handing Clarks all the boots they had worn previously and pointing out their pros and cons. After seeing what worked and what did not, Clarks showed the pair different neoprene fabrics, before building the first version of the boot.

Percy said: ‘We’ve trialled and tested them, and given feedback, on an infinite number of days. The sailing days are all part of the process – hard testing on the water – and we’ve probably had six or seven direct development days.’

He says that after testing the boots at numerous regattas, it was mainly sizing that had to change since the first version. ‘They had to tighten up in some areas. It was too loose in an area or too tight. Padding on top changed, materials changed. Some materials were made firmer than we had originally so it was a stronger, tighter, more supportive fit.’

Foot protection

Percy believes that toe protection is another one of the performance sailing collection’s strengths. He said: ‘There’s various protection on the toe. The curved protector at the front is good for preventing you from stubbing your toe and even Outdrive Drift is designed to have a bit of structure at the front so you don’t kick your toe to pieces.

In last year’s Round the Island Race, in which Percy and Simpson claimed line honours and third overall in a TP52, they gave a pair of Outdrive Drift to everyone on board. ‘That was a great test because we had everyone in different positions around the boat, so we could do a test, outside of our Star sailing, with the normal range of shoes’, said Percy.

‘From the bowman working on the foredeck, as we put multiple tacks in around the backside of the island, to the mainsheet man and trimmers we gave the shoes a pretty thorough test before they went to market with the whole sailing shoe collection.’

Getting a grip
‘In the marine environment a lot of water is coming in over the side. It’s quite a unique environment with smooth glassfibre finishes and a lot of water, so grip is something you’d think you’d be fighting a losing battle with from the beginning. But thanks to the unique Rock rubber compound giving super traction, microsiping to expel water and aquaDX technology for expelling water through drainage channels in the heels, Clarks have found something to work in this really hard environment.’ Style is as important to Percy and Simpson as comfort, and they feel good wearing the Orson Lace deckshoes whether relaxing in the marina or performing on the water.

Whether racing or cruising, on a motorboat, sailing yacht or dinghy, sailing locally or on an expedition, the Clarks performance sailing collection suits everyone.

For more information on the Clarks performance sailing range go to www.clarks.co.uk/sailing

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