Scott by 50 points
Giles Scott (GBR) wrapped up the 2014 Finn Europeans in La Rochelle in the perfect way with a win in the medal race to take the championship by an impressive 50 point margin. The defending champion Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) took the silver, after a very close medal race, by just one point from Ed Wright (GBR).
Strong winds, big waves and lots of rain featured on the final day in La Rochelle. First up was race 11, out on the sea. Bruno Prada (BRA) led round the top mark, and then there was a spectacular downwind leg in winds approaching 20 knots, and perfect rolling waves. Mark Andrews (GBR) rounded second and was soon in the lead to take the win from Josh Junior (NZL) and Deniss Karpak (EST).
Then the medal race was held in the harbour with a short, steep chop and winds around 20 knots making for some very testing and very close racing. Giles Scott (GBR) led round the top mark from Ed Wright (GBR), Jonathan Lobert (FRA) and Thomas Le Breton (FRA).
Wright lost some places on the second upwind and needed to put just one more boat between himself and Vasilij Zbogar on the downwind to take the silver. But it was not to be. Le Breton took a wide track to the left on the final downwind and nearly passed Scott, with Lobert in third. Zbogar had rounded the gate in second but struggled on the second, extended beat, to cross the finish in ninth. With Wright in sixth, Zbogar has saved the silver by one point.
It was fantastic close racing in marginal conditions and the whole fleet screamed over the finish line in under a minute.
Scott summed up his week “It has been a great championship, with some enjoyable racing. The first day was a little bit challenging for all of us that managed to survive the black flag but I think in the end everything came good.”
On the medal race, he said, “I thought there was a bit less tide on the right, so I went that way upwind, managed to cross the fleet and round in front of everyone. And then I kind of stayed the same speed as the guys in second and third. It remained quite close and then Thomas [Le Breton] had a bit of a surge down the last run and we evened out and I just got him on the line.”
“There were big choppy waves and there wasn't much speed difference to be had. It was very close racing as medal racing should be.”
Reflecting on his second European title, he said, “I have had a good 24 hours for it to settle in now, but I am very happy with how things are going at the moment and where I am at, and now I'm looking ahead to the bigger events later in the season. We have some training to do in the UK, and trips to Santander and Rio lined up.”
Wright explained his strategy, “Today I was probably more sailing for the security of the bronze. I didn't want to snap a mast out there in the river we sailed in. I didn't want to push it. I am happy to come away with the bronze, but actually looking back it's so close, just one point would have made the difference, so I could have pushed a bit harder. Going round the top mark I was in second.”
“A medal is always good, so that's why I'm happy, but now I have to get down to some real training and onto the test event and Santander. It's all team based, so there's a lot of training to come.”
“Most of the week early on was light to medium conditions with really good sailing. We mainly had an oscillating breeze, but it was quite hard physically because it was that wind strength when it was hard upwind and downwind. But out on the race course here is a nice place to sail.”
Zbogar was quite elated to take the silver, far above his expectations for the week. “I am really happy with silver, The conditions were not really my favourite, so I am very happy. I have mew materials, new sail and mast, so didn’t know exactly how I'd go but everything is working fine and we know what is missing and we need to work on that.”
On the medal race itself, “It was a very tight finish. I got lucky there as I lost a few places downwind. I had a good start, tried to be close to the top guys at the top mark and then I know I have a small advantage downwind. I was flying downwind and managed to round the bottom mark second. Then upwind I was slow and losing meter by metre. I was really struggling. I had an eye on Ed but he was faster so I tried to keep as few boats between us as possible. In the end I got lucky as Ed lost on the last downwind and that held me keep silver.”
The Junior European title, which is also sailed as an open event, went to Jake Lilley (AUS) after a great week here in La Rochelle. “It's really cool to finally get a win. Thanks to the 25 other juniors here. It's awesome that we can help to build the class and compete in the open Europeans.”
“It was pretty frustrating that we finished second three times last year; that hurt. We worked really hard over the summer, we went to Miami and put heaps of work in so to come here and win the junior open title is really good for us. I'm really happy with that.”
On the final race today, where he held a pre-race lead of 125 point over Jorge Zarif (BRA). “We had a good plan today to just have a solid race and not do anything crazy, and also keep an eye on where Jorge was. I also wanted to finish the regatta strongly and keep at least in the top 15. Josh [Junior] had a good race and so were many other guys in front of me. So I just tried to have an OK race and not go upside down.”
Though still a junior, Lilley is sailing and talking like a senior. Looking to thee future, “Our main focus is on the worlds and the Olympics from now. I'm really happy that all the juniors were here and we're racing with the big boys, so that's the big one for this year. Then it's all on towards the Games.”
As the Europeans in La Rochelle draws to a close, many sailors will be taking a short break before beginning their training programmes for Santander and the all important Olympic qualification. Others will be heading to one of the EUROSAF events coming up, of which the first is the Delta Lloyd Regatta starting in just over a week.
As with the Finn Masters in La Rochelle in 2013, the event this week was hampered to a certain degree by unseasonal bad weather, but what was not in doubt was the quality of the racing and the great sailing conditions out on the sea off La Rochelle. Giles Scott has now won every event since returning to the class last year and seems to be improving event by event. Winning a major championship by 50 points in a 100 boat fleet is nothing short of phenomenal. With Scott saying there are still improvements to be made, he has set the standard everyone needs to match if they provide a fitting challenge in the coming years.