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Team GBR at the Optimist European Championships at Jachtclub Scheveningen

by Valeria Sesto 10 Jul 16:57 BST 23-30 June 2018
The Volvo Ocean Race finished as the Optimist Europeans 2018 started © Sander van der Borch / CODE-ZERO

The IODA Optimist Europeans Championships 2018 took part in Scheveningen, Holland, from the 23rd to the 30th of June, co-organised by the Royal Maas Yacht Club. Sharing the venue with the Finish of the Volvo Ocean Race, 264 sailors from 44 countries, battled for the Euros title on waters which are not usually sailed by Optimist.

Freya Sewell, Florence Brellisford, Emily Mueller, George Creasy, Nick Evans, Jamie Gatehouse and Santiago Sesto-Cosby were the seven members of the GBR successful Team. Italian Alex Demurtas and Argentinean Victoria Charata were the overall winners, although the European title for the girls went to German Cosima Schuter.

The weather was beautiful with perfect yet challenging 'North Sea' sailing conditions. There was five full days of close sailing and all ten races were completed as scheduled. The Race Management Team reflected: 'we were very lucky to be able to run five consecutive days of great racing- this is very unusual in this venue" It was indeed a warm, sunny and challenging week of close racing, with strong tides, big waves and shifty. Team GBR got through it all with success, not only learnt an enormous amount about sailing but also about working together, sharing with others and keeping focused. The days were long, with very early starts and late finishes. Sometimes with big waits ashore.

'The sailors had shown a continuous improvement through the regatta', said Robbie Burns, GBR coach, 'They have shown understanding the challenges of very tidal sailing conditions. The subtle differences in tide across the course and appreciation of port tack lifts and lee-bow have been a high priority. They have carried out there routines and excelled in some challenging conditions against some of the best optimist sailors in Europe.'

All members of the team were first timers in an event of this level, most being very young too. 'They sailed very well and overall it was an outstanding achievement, given their age and experience.' added Robbie. He also said that, beyond results, 'they have made new friends throughout this all, experienced new things that will forever stay with them. And most importantly had a smile in their face.'

The team, as well as many other countries, had travelled four days earlier to be able to train on local water. However, high winds and seas meant that the harbour was closed all days, apart from Saturday. Time was not wasted and sailors took the opportunity to set up their boats to their optimum and do some physical and mental preparation. 'It was important to get into a routine and keep the right balance between having fun, yet keeping out of trouble' said their team leader. 'It would have been ideal to sail before the event, practice how it would all work between the team, the coach, the team leader. As it happened, we went straight into it, and I think we all did great as a team. The children sailed incredibly well, they were a pleasure to be with and look after and they made it all be a truly rewarding experience. The best part of it was on the last morning, in the van, when they said they were having the time of their life and did not want it to ever finish....'

The week started with light winds as a smaller ridge of high pressure was over southern parts of the North Sea and little help from sea-breeze. The tide was strong, which meant that races were held up till after midday. The girls had been launched, yet the boys were ashore for a few hours. Two races were completed, which meant that sailors did not come back ashore till 7:30pm.

The next two days of the qualifying series had better sailing conditions, generally averring 12-14 knts. The team kept chipping away and improving positions. With one day to go for splitting into gold and silver, we had Emily and Flo comfortably in gold and Freya at the top of silver; within the boys Santi and Jamie were in gold yet this was not guaranteed; Nick and George were determined to make it. On Wednesday the wind picked up a notch, touching 18 by the end of the day, and the waves were much bigger, which made it specially fun on the run legs. The boys had a good day on the water, which resulted in all making it to Gold. On the way back home and in a bit of a high, they all reflected. George said: 'The team did better today as we were more motivated. We did some mindset work in the evening and learnt a bit of visualization which helped. Santi, Flo and Emily got top ten positions. I did ok, lost some places on both races, but I still made it to gold, which is more than I expected! I wish I could do a bit better, but it's ok for my first Europeans'.

On the other hand, Jamie thought he could have done better as commented that 'it was easy to gain if you had a bad start and I gained lots! I am please to be in the gold fleet!'. For Nick, 'there was lots of tide and medium wind with steep chop. It was very easy to gain and to loose, as I experienced today. I got my best two results of the week, we are finally understanding the local conditions.'

Santi had an amazing day, with one of the races nearly won, to the point that it wasn't clear to know who was first until stated by committee boat. He said ' It was and interesting day, as easy to get it right and wrong. It was good weather. I almost won a race until the Argentinian boy overtook me at the gate;I was still happy with a second, specially as I had just made friend with him. In the second race I got a fifth; I was again at the from at the gate, so was a bit annoyed yet still it was a really good day.' Beyond the performance he added: 'It's super fun being here all together sharing a house with everyone and working together as a team!'

On the girls front, Emily had to stay behind at the club as she asked for redress after she had been found with an issue in her mast clamp. She was 'lucky' enough to be the draw to be checked in all three races of the day, the first two going by without any problems, yet on the last check they found her mast clamp wasn't quite right. Although the rules are very clear about this, she was unsure of how the mast clamp was ok in the first two instalments yet it failed the test on the last one. Sadly it was not considered valid and she got seventeen points penalty for it, which, at the end of the event, cost her the European title.

Her team-mate and close friend Flo said: 'Emily posted a 2nd, 6th 5th but she got checked by measurement three times and during the last race her mast clamp fell off so she got 17 points added on to that race... We are all very sad for her.' In terms of her races, she thought that 'the starts were hard as it was easy to be over or under the line with the tide and hard to time it right, but finding them better each day. I'm pretty conservative and would like to be consistent and gain little by little every day.' And so she did.

With three races to go, the team got to the Final Stage in high spirits. On Thursday there were two races with some very good results in similar sailing conditions which put them up higher in the ranks. With one race to go, Emily was a strong contender for the title. Argentinian sailor Victoria Mackinnon was leading with outstanding advantage and went into the last day already as a winner, Emily's race for the European title was not being battled against Argentina which, being a country outside Europe, didn't qualify for the Championships.

Friday arose another beautiful day. Although the endeavour was to keep a relaxed atmosphere, the sailors were a bit apprehensive. There was the intention of running the last race earlier so an earlier start for all the teams. The launching was however delayed, with another longer wait in the boat park, yet the last race was promptly completed by lunchtime. The GBR team felt the last day didn't go as well as they were hoping. In their own words, 'we think we were a bit too excited and, so we didn't sail as well as other days; were not focused enough on what we had to do, which was a shame". Despite this, their positions didn't change much and their results were very positive, with all four boys in the top 50% of the fleet, including a 17th European for Santi and the girls with a fourth and 22nd in the Gold and a 29th in Silver.

Emily, who has been very consistent with all top ten positions, had the only bad race of the week. This meant that she could not discard the one with the points for the penalty and so she missed on the European Title. With sadness, Emily said: " I was very disappointed, as I sailed well enough to be the Girls European Champion; however I got a very unlucky measurement penalty that was beyond my control. I also learned a very valuable lesson which was that the event is not over until the end of the last race. I need to manage the the pressure and excitement of being so close to winning better next time. I now know what it feels like to miss out, so will work even harder to achieve it when I, hopefully, get the opportunity again in the future. Yet after reflecting, she added: 'As it stands, I came fourth European Girl and fifth Girl overall which I am really proud of, as I sailed and raced the best I have ever, at one of the toughest and highest level events in the world. I came second in two races and all of my results apart from one were in the top ten.' She also said that she 'had an amazing time meeting sailors from places like Japan, Brazil, Australia and many European countries. One of my favourite parts of the event was trading kit with them. I think I managed to get some very good deals!'

Emily wasn't the only one expressing how much the event meant for them, beyond the racing. Freya Sewell, the youngest of all, said: 'I qualified for my first Europeans after my first ever selections. The sailing conditions were extremely hard and challenging. I've learnt so much, which will be very helpful in the future. I was very nervous at the start but felt much better as the week went by. This is the funnest event I've ever done - I really don't want it to ever end. Thank you to Val and Robbie for looking after me and making it really fun, and to the rest of the team for being amazing. I've made friends from different countries and got closer to my team mates. I loved every moment of it!"

Nick Evans found the event difficult yet enjoyed the social side of things,'It was a very tough event where one shift could result on loosing 20 boats. The big waves and chop made it harder to get good boat speed. Starting was difficult due to the large amounts of tides. It was the hardest event I've ever done. One of best things of the event was to see the finish of the Volvo Ocean race and sailing aside them as we launched. We also made friends from all the countries and had a very fun social evening on the last day. Thank you Val for looking after me while we were there!"

"Indeed, throughout this all they have made new friends, experienced new things that will forever stay with them and most importantly had a smile in their face', ended Robbie.

The team finished with very strong positions, all four boys and two of the girls in Gold Fleet, Freya performed very well within Silver. On their return, former National Coach Alan Williams expressed that "We are very proud of the GB European Team. They sailed incredibly well in the North Sea conditions, with the strong currents and big waves. Their success shows the good quality of the current GB Oppie sailors."

Congratulations Team GBR !

GBR Results after 10 races:

Boys results, 150 competitors
Gold Fleet:
17th European (21st overall) Santiago Sesto Cosby,. GBR/ RLymYC
53rd European (65th overall) Jamie Gatehouse, GBR
55th European (67th overall) Nick Evans, GBR/
60st European (74th overall) Geroge Creasy, GBR/

Girls Results, 98 competitors
Gold Fleet:
4th European (5th overall) Emily Mueller, GBR/ RLymYC
22nd European (24th Overall) Florence Brellisford,

Silver Fleet:
29th European (31st overall) Freya Sewell

Full results can be found here:

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