HE’S the double-Olympic gold medal winner who’s secured everything from epic rowing victories to braving the Tour de France's Étape and racing to the South Pole.

But it was rowing the River Tone that James Cracknell set in his sights last week to give star backing to a proposed youth watersports facility in Taunton’s heart.

The £600,000 Centre for Outdoor Activities and Community Hub (COACH) Water Sports Centre is well on its way to becoming a reality in French Weir Park, with planning permission granted in November 2013.

James joined Taunton School, Lydeard St Lawrence, Lyngford Park and North Town pupils in a very wet flotilla from Firepool to French Weir, taking to upright paddle boards, kayaks and rowing boats.

James said: “It’s a fantastic thing to have a facility like this which will be not just for watersports but also land-based activities; and to have a cafe, and be a focal point of the county to keep people coming back.”

The model for the state-of-the-art centre, fashioned by Taunton architects Reed-Holland, was on show to assembled supporters and water-mad youngsters.

Once complete, COACH’s “iconic, green and functional” centre linking Longrun and Firepool, will have a rowing, kayaking, canoeing and bike store, public toilets, changing rooms, and a raised cafe.

A large “youth space” and meeting room is also pitched, and the design even meets Environment Agency criteria by having a floodable ground floor.

David Fothergill, chairman of Somerset County Council said: “It’s really marvellous that James Cracknell has got behind what will be a great facility for Taunton, and for developing water sports in the area.”

Cllr Norman Cavill (Con, West Monkton) said: “The plans and models are absolutely fantastic.

“It’ll make a better use of the river – plus how many towns have a rowing club running up and down the river?”

GB rowing prospect, Amy Smith, aged 18, a member of Taunton Rowing Club, said: “It will change Taunton Rowing Club really dramatically.”