FOR A teenager who can travel at speeds of up to 80 miles an hour in the sea you wouldn’t expect sailor Jak Cornthwaite to admit his swimming "is not the best."
Jak, who lives in Baxenden, is one of Britain’s 2012 Olympic hopefuls.
He is already in the Great Britain Youth sailing squad and has high aspirations of following in the footsteps of three times Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie.
The 17-year-old can spend up to six hours a day in the high seas, guiding his boat around markers and dealing with waves of up to 30 feet while travelling at fantastic speeds.
But swimming is a no-go.
"I am a poor swimmer," admitted Jak. "I have to make sure my life jacket is very good and that I don’t fall in the water a lot.
"If I do, I make sure there is a boat nearby to jump onto! My swimming is not the best."
Jak has had a rapid rise to sailing stardom, having only taken up the sport by accident aged 12 but now he is one of the top young sailors in the country at Laser Class.
"My grandad had been into sailing and one day he took me and my brother Tom to East Lancs Sailing Club in Rishton.
"We got in the boat, I ended up capsizing it but I had another go and I was hooked. I just felt a real buzz and that was that.
"I joined the club, I went sailing every weekend, my mum and dad forked out a few hundred pounds for a boat and every weekend has been taken up with it since. I train at Elton Sailing Club in Bury now."
He admitted: "I would love to aim for the 2012 Olympics especially as it is on home soil although it does depend how I progress over the next few years. Otherwise it is 2016.
"Ben Ainslie is a hero. He won his first gold medal in the Laser Class in 2000 (he moved up to the larger Finn Class after that).
"The Laser class is the men’s single handed dinghy and that is my strongest event.
"It can be hard controlling the boat and going around all the markers but you have to do it - miss a marker and you get kicked out.
"And, as well as strength, it is also technical preparing the boat, assessing the weather and such like.
"A race can take over an hour and there can be three or four of them in a day so you can be in the water for up to six hours.
"It means you have to concentrate and keep hydrating but I am good at staying in race mode."
Jak admits it is an unusual sport to get into while all his friends are playing football or cricket.
"I think they thought I was a bit odd at first, especially as there is no sea around Accrington! I think they wondered how I had got involved.
"And they do take the mickey calling me ‘sailor boy’ and names like that but really they are proud of me.
"I have come into the sport late really. There are three of us from the North involved in it and the other two started when they were seven or eight," continued Jak, with Ainslie aged just three when he had his first sailing experience.
"I have taken to it though and I just find it really exciting. I get a huge buzz from it all especially the racing side as I am really competitive.
"It is a huge physical challenge. I go to the gym three times a week and I am bigger than a lot of the guys competing so I prefer the big winds and the worse the conditions, the better for me.
"In New Zealand, when I was part of the Great Britain Youth squad which won the World Laser Radial Championships, the waves were around 30 feet and they were crashing over my head.
"I had to surf down them - it was fantastic. That was the best for me.
"You do go fast - the speediest is around 12 knots which is around 80 miles and hour. You have just got to keep control."
As well as New Zealand, his sport has taken him over the world.
"I have been to France and Germany as well and they have been great experiences.
"It is expensive. I do get a grant from the Royal Yacht Association but my mum and dad have to spend a lot. We head down south a lot of weekends and it costs them around £250 each time we go."
His parents, Mitchell and Bobby, who run, among other things, a cattery in Baxenden, estimate it costs them around £13,000 last year for Jak to do his sport - and younger brother Tom is also getting into sailing too.
"It is expensive and I can’t even get a Saturday job as I haven’t got time," said Jak. "But hopefully it will be all worth it."
Jak is in the top three in Great Britain’s Youth squad and is now catching the eye of sports people outside the world of sailing.
Last week, he received a letter to say he has won a place at the National Talent Orientation Camp at Loughborough University in January.
It is a four day camp for talented UK sports teenagers aged 14-18 year olds.
Last year, Dame Kelly Holmes was there offering advice as the 90 athletes took part in rowing, cycling, canoeing and triathlon which gives them a unique insight into sport and helps prepare them for, hopefully, future glory.
When not sailing Jak, who attended St John’s Primary School and Hollins Technology College is currently working on his A Levels at St Marys College in Blackburn. He is studying Classical Civilisation, PE, English Language and Geography.
"College are really good as I do have to take most Friday afternoons off as I head down to the south coast but I also have to keep up with my school work. I don’t have any other hobbies as I just don’t have time.
"I don’t mind when all my friends are heading off to parties and I am going sailing - I love it and if I get an Olympic medal, I won’t regret a thing!"
l JAK is sponsored by Lanes For Drains, Killelea Steelwork Construction and Ballpark Precision Engineering but is looking for other sponsors. If you can help please contact Marshall Cornthwaite on 07766 708402 or email him on email@example.com.