Brace of golds as Brits dominate home European Championships

Champagne soaked 49er podium © Nick Dempsey/RYA

Britain’s elite sailors scooped the European gold and silver medals in both the 49er and Nacra 17 classes today in a flurry of success on home waters of Weymouth and Portland.

Ben Saxton and Nicola Boniface were crowned Nacra 17 European champions, while Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell picked up the title in the 49er class.

Saxton and Boniface sealed victory with a thrilling win in the double-points finale at the Volvo 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 European Championship held at Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy.

Fletcher and Bithell’s title was confirmed when the wind disappeared before the 49er medal race could be held.

The duo actually finished second overall behind reigning Olympic champions Pete Burling and Blair Tuke, but the Kiwi team’s result doesn’t count in the European standings.

“We’re really excited to have won and so happy to have closed the week on a high,” said Boniface, 25, from Polegate in East Sussex.

Nacra 17 podium © Nick Dempsey/RYA

Saxton, the 2017 Nacra 17 world champion, added: “We went into that final race wanting to come back as European champions and we did it. It feels great. We sailed really well this week and have been consistent in all conditions. We turned it on when it really counted.”

Fletcher, 31, from Thames Ditton, Surrey, who represented Team GB at the 2016 Rio Olympics, said: “We’re very happy with how we sailed, especially given our preparation for the event. We came here straight from competing in Sail GP in San Francisco and we were really warmed up for this regatta.”

Bithell, 32, from Rochdale, who won a silver medal in the 470 at London 2012 with Luke Patience, added: “It was a bit deflating that we couldn’t fight with the Kiwi lads in the medal race but at the end of the day we’re the European champions and we’re stoked about that.”

Silver medals fell to British Nacra 17 pair John Gimson and Anna Burnet and 49er crew James Peters and Fynn Sterritt as Britain exerted its dominance on the international Olympic circuit.

The medals come just a day after Olympic champion Giles Scott won his third European Finn class title in Athens, while Henry Wetherell picked up silver in the under 23 category.

In the 49erFX fleet, Britain’s Charlotte Dobson and Saskia Tidey were in medal contention until the final two days of the regatta when they were caught out by the lighter breeze.

A fourth in the medal race saw the pair, who both went to Rio 2016 but with Tidey representing Ireland, finish as the fifth European crew and seventh overall.

The flurry of medals marks the end of an incredible week of racing in Portland Harbour and Weymouth Bay, dominated by big breeze and waves early on before light winds set in later in the regatta.

It was a welcome return of Olympic classes racing to Weymouth and Portland, home of the London 2012 sailing competition.

More than 400 athletes from all over the world battled for the European Championships crown in the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 classes – three of the fastest and most exciting Olympic classes.

Not only was the regatta one of the largest in the 2019 calendar, it was also one of the most significant with numerous nations counting it towards selection for Tokyo 2020.

Ben Saxton and Nikki Boniface are all smiles © Nick Dempsey/RYA

Crucially the regatta, run by the RYA and part-funded by the National Lottery and Volvo Car UK, continues the legacy of London 2012 by delivering world-class racing and shining a spotlight on WPNSA’s excellent facilities and organisation.

Prior to the event more than 100 sailors, coaches and support staff took to the WPNSA boat park and nearby Chesil Beach to pick up litter as part of the #Sailors4theSea movement.

The beach clean was part of the RYA’s wider sustainability strategy which aims to shape how regattas are run in the UK and around the world going forward.

Working with the Green Blue, a joint initiative with British Marine to promote sustainable environmental practice in boating, the RYA will now measure its practices to set a new benchmark for sustainably-run events.

Full results from the 49er and 49erFX competitions can be found here, and the Nacra 17 results are here.

Dylan Fletcher and Stu Bithell claim European gold © Nick Dempsey/RYA