* Bermuda Sun file photo. One of the greats: Eugene (Penny) Simmons learned sailing at the Spanish Point Boat Club and has since gone on to represent Bermuda across the globe. He has won six International One Design World Championships.
* Bermuda Sun file photo. One of the greats: Eugene (Penny) Simmons learned sailing at the Spanish Point Boat Club and has since gone on to represent Bermuda across the globe. He has won six International One Design World Championships.
If ever any aspiring sailor required inspiration they need not look any further then the legendary Eugene (Penny) Simmons.

Raised in the closely knit community at Spanish Point, Simmons began his career messing about in home crafted wooden punts - a humble beginning for a sailor who would go on to become a six -time International One Design world champion and Pan Am Games bronze medalist.

Reflecting upon his early days in the sport, Simmons said: "I lived in Spanish Point which was like a community of probably about six to eight families. It was like one big family and everyone looked after everybody else. We made little flat bottom punts and used to sail in them in the bay out there and things just went on from there. During our summer holidays we sailed a lot and one thing led to another."

Simmons was introduced to competitive sailing at age ten and by the age of 13 had already savoured victory as a skipper in his own right, sailing in the Snipe Class.

He said: "I first started sailing crewing for a friend of mine by the name of Geoffrey Wilson who had an old wooden sail boat. They used to do handicap racing at Spanish Point Boat Club which was located back then at an old place they used to call the Bungalow. I actually started out as a bailer.

"When I was 13 they had this annual Cup Match Regatta on what used to be the Sail Boat Club on Whites Island and this particular year the wind was light and we managed to win the day's event, which consisted of two races."

Having been bitten by the competitive sailing bug, Simmons spent hours on end perfecting his skills and learned from others.

He added: "The sailors who were older and more established than I was were people like John Harvey Watlington and DeForest Trimingham. They were international 14 sailors, which was quite a big class here in those days.

"Those were guys that I got to know about. I didn't know much about them personally, but used to watch them out there on the race course."

Simmons, 71, had the chance to attend a summer sailing class at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, but declined the offer.

He said: "I remember a friend of mine (Hugh Masters) wanted me to go to the summer classes at the Yacht Club (RBYC) to learn a little bit more. But I declined that and stayed with the Boat Club (Spanish Point) instead.

"All of my racing during my teens was done out of that club. There were a number of people who crewed for me during those days and they were just as keen to sail and learn how to sail and we put a lot of time in sailing early mornings before we went to work and again in the evenings after work. That was the main thing we did.

"We didn't have any coaches back then and so you learned by watching others sail. It was a trial and error thing quite honestly."

Over the course of his career Simmons has sailed in various classes. He has even dabbled in ocean racing. He added: "In 1958 Roddy Williams invited me to do a Newport to Bermuda Race with him. We were doing fairly well in our class and were 90 miles from Bermuda when the wind just disappeared for a complete seven hours. We didn't go anywhere, but if you looked over the horizon you could see boats moving along in a good breeze."

Frustrating

That frustrating experience had a profound effect on Simmons who realized at once that ocean racing was certainly not his cup of tea.

He added: "Those guys were not far away and here we were sitting in nothing, this just wasn't boat racing to me and so I decided I would stick to the shorter course, around the triangle sort of thing. I decided ocean racing wasn't the type of racing I wanted to do."

In 1967 Simmons copped a medal at the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg competing in the Snipes and later went on to win a remarkable six IOD world titles between 1985 and 2005.

Reflecting upon past glories, the affable sailor said: "We have done reasonably well in the class over the years, but I'm sure there's also been room for improvement."

Of the lot, Simmons lists winning his first IOD world title in San Francisco as one of his crowning moments in the sport.

He added: "We were all quite pleased about that because the conditions were very trying out there. We had a good crew and sailed reasonably well enough."

Since 1981 Simmons has sailed with wife Sacha, the sister of long time rival and IOD class president Jordy Walker, aboard.

"It's interesting in that when we are sailing she does exactly what I tell her," he smiled. "But it doesn't necessarily work that way on land - that's a whole different ball game."

As for the future of the IOD Class in Bermuda, Simmons said: "It goes up and down when some of the older people pass on and you end up with a smaller fleet. But the last couple of years some of the younger guys like Somers Kempe have gotten involved and are keen and getting better all the time.

"The IOD is a well balanced boat to sail and once you get it rigged properly it's really nice to sail.

"It's really similar to the 12 Metre they used to sail for the Americas Cup years ago and is almost identical in shape and is a heavy displacement boat, which carries its weight. You can luff the sails for quite awhile and continue to move along."