Early blow for Sign’s title defence

John Pink
John Pink

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Alain Sign’s defence of his European 49er title got off to the worst possible start when he and fellow racer Dylan Fletcher wrecked their high-performance dinghy on a rock.

The Lee-on-the-Solent star hit the rock while on the first race of the European Championship event in Helsinki – the impact split the hull wide open, destroyed the daggerboard and ruled the duo out for the remainder of the opening day.

‘It was extreme – they stopped so fast that the boat went vertical, bow buried and stern straight in the air,’ said Brazil’s Thomas Low-Beer who witnessed the collision.

Fletcher’s summary on Twitter was to the point: ‘What a rubbish day! Smashed into a rock going upwind on our race course; board knackered, boat split open.’

Portsmouth’s John Pink and Stuart Bithell were among at least four other crews to hit the bottom, though they escaped with relatively minor damage and only missed one race.

They were able to replace their damaged daggerboard with a spare while on the water, packed their leaking daggerboard housing with tape, and raced with the stern drain plugs out.

‘We drained it on the downwinds and filled her back up on the upwinds,’ said Bithell.

Embarrassed race officers hurriedly placed warning buoys in the danger area and both teams sought and were given redress.

Pink and Bithell, having finished two races (11th and 2nd) were given an average seventh for their missed race and ended the day in 11th.

Having missed three, Fletcher and Sign will have to wait until six races have been sailed to get any redress at all.

An absence of wind on Wednesday’s second race day only served to increase the pressure on the team.

In contrast, over on the women’s 49erFX course, Britain’s Kate MacGregor and Katrina Best were leading the fleet after the opening day with a 2-1-2 scoreline, with team-mates Charlotte Dobson and Sophie Ainsworth in fifth and Hayling Island’s Frances Peters and Nicola Groves lying 12th in the 51-boat fleet.

Meanwhile, Hayling Island’s Eilidh McIntyre and Sophie Weguelin are among four British Sailing Team crews also vying for European honours in the women’s 470 event in Athens and aiming to improve on their 2013 bronze medal.

Racing was due to start yesterday.

‘It would be realistic to say that we’re in with a chance,’ said Weguelin.

‘If all goes well and everything slots into place, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be up there.’

2012 Olympic silver medallists Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark are back in action after a three-month injury lay-off.

A hernia operation for Clark and a back injury for Mills has meant they are down on their sailing hours heading to Athens and have readjusted their expectations accordingly.

‘It would be foolish of us to launch into this expecting a result having had that time off and with the rest of the fleet having been pushing hard in the meantime,’ said Clark.