Britain’s sailors enjoyed a golden double on the first day of medal racing at the Sailing World Cup Miami on Saturday (28 January).
The new pairing of Dylan Fletcher-Stuart Bithell reaped an early victory in the 49er class, securing gold ahead of the final medal race, while Nacra 17 Olympic pairing Ben Saxton-Nicola Groves dusted off the cobwebs at their first regatta back since Rio to top the multihull standings at this opening event of the Tokyo 2020 cycle.
Saxton and Groves were joined on the second step of the podium by their British Sailing Team stablemates Tom Phipps-Nikki Boniface, who claimed their first ever World Cup medal out on Biscayne Bay.
Fletcher and Bithell, competing at their first World Cup since joining forces in the autumn, were elated with their performance, which yielded five race wins and ten scores inside the top five across the 13-race series.
“I think the stand-out for me was that when we were sailing well we actually put together some unbelievable results,” reflected Bithell, the 2015 European bronze medallist. “I’ve not done that in the past in the 49er as it’s quite a tricky class to do that in, so I’m really happy with that.
“We obviously made some mistakes and picked up some bigger results, but we’re new and we’re still learning. We’re happy in general.”
“It’s the first World Cup for me and Stu together, we’ve not been in the boat long so we’re over the moon to come home with a bullet and also win it with a day to spare,” added Fletcher, who won 2016 World Championship bronze and competed at Rio 2016 with long-term crew Alain Sign.
“It’s what we need to be pushing for to try and get closer to the Kiwis and overtake them!”
James Peters-Fynn Sterritt also qualified for the medal race, and won the double-points finale to end their regatta in sixth.
Saxton and Groves, the 2015 European Champions in the mixed multihull event, clawed their way back through the Nacra 17 fleet over the course of the week to start the medal race with the yellow jerseys - albeit with their teammates Phipps and Boniface snapping at their heels in the overall standings.
But it was a third British Sailing Team crew – John Gimson and Anna Burnet – which proved the toughest test on the medal race course on Saturday, with the duo stealing the medal race victory and leading a British 1-2-3 across the finish line.
Saxton-Groves’s second was enough to seal overall victory, Phipps-Boniface kept hold of their silver medal position, and Gimson-Burnet’s final race win moved them up to fourth overall.
“We started off a little rusty this week, but by the end of it we were on form,” said Groves afterwards. “We had an absolutely amazing day yesterday and we rounded it all off today with a second in the medal race, which got us the win.”
“This is our first ever World Cup medal so it’s a big one for Nikki and I,” Phipps explained. “We’ve slowly been working our way up the ranks and it’s nice to be solidly at the front of the fleet.
“It’s been a great start – we’ve got an exciting year with the boat changing and we’re ready to get going!”
Elsewhere on the first of two medal race days in Miami, Izzy Hamilton narrowly missed out on the RS:X Women’s windsurfing podium after an otherwise solid week of racing. She finished fifth, three points from the medal spots, after a tough start to the medal race which she had started in the bronze medal position.
But the Bude sailor remained positive about her Miami experience.
“I had a great week – I went into the medal race in third, but unfortunately didn’t have the best medal race and didn’t do what I needed to so I ended up fifth.
“I had a bit of a bad start. The two girls below me got OCS so I had to tack out, ended up underneath them and then from there I was playing a bit of catch up. I caught up a few places but not the right people so couldn’t stay in third.”
Youth World Champion Emma Wilson also qualified for the medal race, finishing her regatta in tenth place.
RS:X Men’s windsurfer Kieran Martin concluded his event in eighth overall, while Kate Macgregor-Sophie Ainsworth wrapped up their first 49erFX regatta together in ninth place.
The British Sailing Team has further medal opportunities in three events on the final day of Miami World Cup racing on Sunday.
Sophie Weguelin-Eilidh McIntyre are just one point adrift from the Dutch series leaders in the 470 Women’s event, but will need to be mindful of a challenge from two Spanish boats behind them, while Ben Cornish will aim to defend his silver medal position in the Finn class.
World Champion Nick Thompson heads into the Laser finale in overall third place, but has teammate Lorenzo Chiavarini also eyeing the podium spots behind him in fourth.
Medal racing is scheduled from 1700GMT on Sunday 29 January:
Laser – 1700
Laser Radial – 1745
Finn – 1830
470 Men – 1915
470 Women – 2000
Tune in to live Miami medal racing from 1700 on Sunday.