Margriet Matthijsse won the Europe class European Championships (Friday) at Hayling Island, adding to her World Championship title, Olympic Silver Medal and ISAF World Number One status. In a similar fashion to Britain’s own World number one Laser sailor, Ben Ainslie, the only thing missing from her CV now is the Olympic Gold Medal.
RYA Team GBR’s Shirley Robertson, an Elite Performer on the World Class Performance Programme, missed out on the Gold medal position by six points, having to settle for the Silver Medal with Australia’s Sarah Blanck sailing a superbly consistent regatta to claim the Bronze medal.
Although there was a short delay before the start as the race committee waited for the sea breeze to fill in, conditions for the final couldn’t have been better as the 8 -12 knot breeze was accompanied by bright sunshine and not too much chop out on Hayling Bay. As Olympic Gold Medallist Mike McIntyre said, “It’s Hayling at its best”.
Going into the final two races, Robertson was two points down from Matthijsse. Things looked quite bright for Robertson for a short while as the Dutch World Champion was one of a group of five girls who fell foul of the black flag start in the first race.
With Robertson finishing eighth in that race, both the girls had their target, as it became clear that Margriet had to finish 11th or worse for Robertson to win.
This led to a pre start match race with Robertson hunting down Matthijsse whose aim was “to stay well clear”. Although Shirley’s BT Match Racing crew now occupy the top slot in the ISAF Women’s Match Racing World Rankings, the clutter of a large fleet trying to position themselves on the start line was rather more than she was used to. “I’m only used to two boats, not one hundred and twenty and because we had three starts, I had to do it three times” said Shirley.
As the gun went, Robertson chased Matthijsse down the line. Any advantage this had gained was negated, however, as Robertson received a yellow flag for excess kinetics just after the start, giving Matthijsse the chance she needed to break away, eventually finishing fourth. “. I didn’t even see them coming”, said Shirley. “They must have been following us from the start”.
Despite coming so close to the Gold Medal, Robertson was extremely happy with the final result. She said: “I’m really quite happy. Margriet and myself were clearly ahead of the rest of the fleet. I used to be weak in some areas, and Margriet was considerably stronger, but this week I didn’t think that was the case. I felt I was sailing well and smartly. I’ve been training here at Hayling Island with my coach for the past month and I think that really paid off. I felt really relaxed with the conditions”.
Matthijsse also recognised that herself and Shirley had set the standard for others to follow, commenting “I think Shirley and I just made fewer mistakes than anyone else”.
Although not quite able to catch the leading pair, Sarah Blanck also appeared to be a league above the rest here, with nine points separating her and team mate Melanie Dennison in fourth overall.
“I wanted to finish in Europe on a high and prove that my second at Kiel week wasn’t a fluke and I’ve done that. Consistency has helped me through the regatta. It’s been a great learning experience sailing in Europe,” said Sarah.
Although she admitted it was nice to get the upperhand on Dennison here, she accepts “It’s still so close between us”. Dennison also believes there is not much between them, commenting: “It’s going to be a tough trials for the games” although she was content with her placing which was the best she could expect given her position this morning. “Fourth was all I could do coming into today so I’m really pleased with that” said Melanie.