AFTER a disastrous start to their 49er European title defence, Lee-on-the-Solent’s Alain Sign and Dylan Fletcher mounted a gritty comeback to take silver in Helsinki.
They were the top European crew at last year’s event in Denmark and hoped for a repeat performance on Finnish waters.
But a nightmare first race saw the world-number-four-ranked pair wreck their race boat after hitting submerged rocks on the race course, causing them to miss all three of the opening day’s races.
However, after emergency repairs and a points redress from race organisers, Fletcher and Sign launched a fightback to put themselves in medal contention going into Sunday’s three-race decider as the top European crew.
The pressure was on for both the European crown and the overall event podium, with New Zealand world champions Peter Burling/Blair Tuke and Australian Olympic gold medallists Nathan Outteridge/Iain Jensen ahead of them in the overall standings – and Germany’s Erik Heil/Thomas Ploessel close behind.
Fletcher and Sign scored 2-6-7 to take European silver and overall event bronze behind the Kiwis and German crews, in the process relegating the Aussie Olympic champions to fourth overall.
Portsmouth’s John Pink and Stuart Bithell were also in final-day action, taking the 10th and last final’s berth via a repechage round.
They ended the regatta in ninth overall and as the seventh European crew.
‘We didn’t sail badly so are a bit frustrated to have not come out a bit better, but to come away with another medal and beating the Olympic gold medallists is always good,’ said Fletcher.
‘It’s tough in those short theatre-style races because if someone gets even the slightest break it can literally make a massive difference.
‘We narrowly missed a cross with the Germans in the third and final race, which made the difference I think between rounding second and rounding ninth.’
Fletcher added: ‘If you’d told us on Tuesday afternoon that we were going to be sat in this position I wouldn’t have believed you.
‘After we hit that rock in the first race of the first day and smashed our race boat up – and it was a brand new boat we brought here – we were feeling pretty down.
‘We were really happy to be able to get back on it, get our heads together and put a good series together.’
In the women’s 49erFX event, run concurrently, Charlotte Dobson and Sophie Ainsworth finished as the fourth-ranked European crew and sixth overall in the regatta.
Frances Peters-Nicola Groves and Kate Macgregor-Katrina Best were the seventh and ninth-placed European crews, finishing ninth and tenth overall respectively.
Elsewhere in European Championship action, Beijing Olympic gold medallist Pippa Wilson and crew John Gimson were the top British pairing at the Nacra 17 European Championships in La Grande Motte, France, finishing sixth overall.