Skiff pair sail close to the wind

When the Irish 49er skiff hit the windward mark in Saturday’s medal race final of the Princess Sofia regatta in Mallorca, Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern exchanged the briefest grimmace at one another.

They were leading the race and on course to win Gold at the Palma Olympic classes regatta but this error could prove costly.

With no time to lose, they quickly got clear of the inflatable mark and sailed into their penalty turn, a 360-degree manouevre that stalls boat speed.

In any sailing-boat, such an exonerating move is costly but in the 49er skiff, the speed of these boats only amplifies the wait before the sails are hauled around through the eye of the wind and set to resume sailing as quickly as possible.

Sure enough, their standing instantly plummeted from first to second-last in the space of 10 seconds during the 35-minute race. But they set-about retrieving the situation by chasing the pack back down the course.

All that was needed in the medal race was a top eight finish out of the ten boats, the cream of the fleet distilled over 15 races from the 70-plus entry that began the regatta six days earlier.

“It was really tight and we hit the top mark but managed to get back into sixth place and secure the Gold medal,” Seaton said afterwards.

Behind them in the regatta were all the top boats with the exception of the un-defeated world champions from New Zealand, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke. In an Olympic year, a result like this confirms them as real podium prospects for Rio 2016.

Sweet too was the silver position for their training-partners, the Australian Gold medallists Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen from the London 2012 Olympics who had the night before succeeded in having a race disqualification readmitted to their score from the fleet series, a move that meant the Irish crew needed

“It feels great to finally finish with the win tucked away,” McGovern said later. “We thought we had done it on Friday night until the points changed and we needed top eight in the medal race.”

But with the 49er European Championships starting in Barcelona next week, there wasn’t even time for both to attend the prize-giving together.

“It’s hammer down, keep training, keep racing and just one day off,” said McGovern. “Over the next few weeks, we’ll be spending a lot of time with our training partners, the Australian team who actually finished just behind us in second so it’s been a good battle.

Still with four to go before the Olympic regatta begins, the priority for the Belfast Lough duo is “boat-set-up, boatspeed as well as boat-handling for when the wind gets up.”

Seaton (28) who hails from both Carrickfergus Sailing Club and Ballyholme Yacht Club started campaigning with McGovern (31) from Ballyholme and Royal Ulster Yacht Clubs almost ten years ago and sailed for Ireland at London 2012.

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