BRITISH sporting hero Sir Steve Redgrave kept his feet firmly on dry land yesterday as he visited Wirral to open a new rowing centre.
The five times Olympic gold medallist, who once famously said "Anyone sees me go anywhere near a boat again, you have my permission to shoot me" attended the ceremony at Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club's £750,000 boathouse.
It marked the end of more than a decade of relentless fund-raising by club members who were determined to restore the boat house after it was razed to the ground by arsonists.
As he toured the new facilities and the sun beamed down Sir Steve, a patron of the centre, recounted how it was a very different visit to his first.
He said: "I first came to the club in January 1985 on a very snowy day to launch a boat called Olympic Gold, which is still being used.
"It is very different today. The centre is fantastic, first class.
"It's taken a long time to get here and seeing some of the drawings and how it has developed is very impressive.
"The people involved must be extremely proud. It's not just a rowing club, it's a centre for the whole community."
There has been rowing on the West Float Dock at Wallasey for 120 years.
The club, which has around 100 members, was founded in 1884 and navigated its way around numerous setbacks, including the cancellation of regattas because the waste from the oil ships made the water too grimy.
But in 1990 vandals broke into the boathouse and set it alight, destroying the building.
Donations from the public and local businesses as well as a £468,000 Sport England grant mean it has finally been rebuilt and is now one of the best purpose-built rowing centres in the country.
Sir Steven, who is honorary president of the Amateur Rowing Association, first won an Olympic gold on Lake Casitas in Los Angeles.
He repeated his win on Seoul's Han River basin before going on to scoop his third gold in Barcelona, a fourth in Atlanta and his final in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
It made him Britain's first sportsman to win five consecutive gold medals and propelled him into the history books.
His achievements are something he hopes will inspire Wirral youngsters to try out the sport, which he is adamant is not just for the rich.
He said: "I went to a small comprehensive school, but it had a very enthusiastic guy who asked a few people to row from the school.
"It really was fun. I thought it was a great way of getting out on the river during school time.
"It's about enthusiasm and that rubs off. We need to be encouraging people to bring youngsters down here.
"With enthusiasm it will create the sports stars of the future." The centre has a fully equipped training centre and lecture rooms as well as boat storage.
Sir Steve launched two new boats as part of his visit, one of which was named after him, before meeting pupils from local schools that use the facilities.
Chairman Neil Thomas said: "There has been terrific loyalty and commitment from the members to this club and we can now open it up to the whole community.
"We have an open door policy, we have never turned anyone away."