Red Bull 49erFX team of Molly Meech and Alex Maloney report on their second tour in Europe and the just concluded European Championships
There is an old saying, 'It’s not over till the fat lady sings', and that definitely proved true at the 49erFX Europeans in Helsinki, Finland last week. After starting slowly, we bounced back a little more each day, kept our heads up, started each day with a positive mindset, and came home with a medal.
Although tenacity is a great strength, it is preferable to hit the ground running on day one. Coming back from 17th place on day one is not only risky but is hard work.
The first day we had a nice 6-10 knots, with big shifts so lots of gains - and losses - to be made. Limited course areas, due to the location of islands and hidden rocks in Helsinki, meant the race committee was forced to run more laps to reach the 30-minute target time. The three laps were a blessing for us the first day of competition. Mediocre starts and first upwind legs meant we needed the extra lap to play catch up. And that we did, with an attitude of one boat at a time.
Our big catch ups weren’t enough and after debriefing the day with our coach Jez Fanztone, we were able to quickly identify what we needed to improve our performance for the next five days. Holding our lane off the start, and backing ourselves to sail aggressively to the pressure on the first upwind legs were the main points to take forward. Helsinki waters did not reward cautious sailors.
The next day there was a bit of angst left over, but we wanted to prove to ourselves that we can do better. However, the weather gods had something different in mind as racing was postponed and then abandoned due to lack of wind. We relaxed for the rest of the day, saving ourselves as the weather was predicted to get windy.
As we hit the water for the third and final day of qualifying, we knew we had to have a solid day to not only make it into the gold fleet, but to turn our regatta around. With 18-25 knots and a choppy sea state, the three-lap races became physically demanding - especially for Molly’s role as the crew. The racing was intense, yet the conditions made simplicity pay. Despite capsizing twice - once just five meters away from the finish line – we had a good day and rocketed up the leaderboard to seventh place.
We felt the tide changing. As a team, we knew once gold fleet racing began there was a lot of opportunities to improve. We discarded the qualification series from our mind and sailed like it was the first day of the regatta. We are happy with how we sailed for those two days of close racing. Conditions were a shifty 12-17 knots - similar to the conditions we get back home training in Auckland. We made mistakes, but carried on each race, always improving. At the end of gold fleet racing, we had climbed all the way into pole position. However, points were close with our Danish friends and rivals one point behind, and two more boats in striking distance.
Medal racing is usually our strength. It promotes boat positioning and boat handling, as the course area is restricted by a set of boundary marks and only the top ten boats are in the theatre. We were confident going into the three, ten-minute races on the last day.
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For previous blogs from Alex and Molly click here