Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders will head to the upcoming world sailing championships full of confidence after finishing second at the Nacra 17 European championships in Poland overnight (NZ time).
The pair went into the final day in a tight three-way battle for gold and sailed well to comfortably grab silver on the back of two seconds and an 11th before a sixth placing in the top 10 double points medal race. The Italian combination of Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti, who have been the world's best Nacra 17 sailors all year, won gold with Spain's Fernando Echavarri and Tara Pacheco third.
Jones and Saunders put together their best regatta of the year in a quality fleet, banking 11 top-three placings including four race wins.
"It was a really, really good week for us," Saunders said. "We were really consistent all week and had a lot of top three placings which meant we were going pretty fast.
"We probably had our best ever regatta when it came to starts which was a big work-on after the last couple of events. It was pretty cool to nail down a couple of key things in our starts and it feels like we have some confidence with that going into the worlds."
Jones and Saunders started the European season full of optimism after spending the New Zealand summer training with four other world-class teams, including fellow Kiwis Liv Mackay and Micah Wilkinson. It was the first main training block as teams tried to master the new foiling Nacra 17s that will be used at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but it took time for the pair to find their groove.
They were 13th at the Princess Sofia regatta in Palma and 11th at the World Cup in Hyeres before things started to click with a second at Medemblik and fourth at Kiel Week.
"We think we have made a lot of progress since the start of the year," Saunders said. "We had a big summer block in New Zealand and we're only now starting to improve on the things that were highlighted at the start of the year. When you're away from the rest of the fleet for so long there's a risk, I guess, of some of the areas being a little weaker and we found out in Palma we weren't as quick as we would have liked to be but we have managed to make some good gains.
"We're really excited for the worlds in a couple of weeks because we're really happy with the way we are sailing. We have one more block before the worlds to sharpen up on boat handling and getting our boat absolutely ready for the worlds."
Isaac McHardie and William McKenzie finished 20th in the 49er European championships. The rest of New Zealand's top skiff sailors, including 49erFX Olympic silver medallists Alex Maloney and Molly Meech, opted to skip the regatta to freshen up in New Zealand before the world championships but McHardie and McKenzie needed the race practice after missing the early part of the season when McHardie broke his foot.
The pair sneaked into gold fleet, recording a race win to be the 25th team to qualify, and improved five places in finals racing.
Overnight sailing results:
Nacra 17 (27 boats)
1st: Ruggero Tita / Caterina Banti (ITA) 1 3 2 4 3 1 (6) 1 1 (10) 1 1 1 1 14 - 34 points
2nd: Gemma Jones / Jason Saunders (NZL) (3) 1 1 1 2 2 1 2 8 2 (14) 2 2 11 12 - 47 pts
3rd: Fernando Echavarri / Tara Pacheco (ESP) 2 4 (5) 1 1 2 4 7 4 1 2 9 3 (13) 16 - 56 pts
49er gold fleet (25 boats)
1st: Diego Botín / Iago Marra (ESP) 5 6 6 2 1 7 2 1 1 (22) 8 6 8 12 (15) 4 - 69 pts
2nd: Dominik Buksak / Szymon Wierzbicki (POL) 2 (12) 12 1 3 1 5 5 11 9 4 2 (24) 2 9 8 - 74 pts
3rd: Dylan Fletcher-Scott / Stuart Bithell (GBR) 5 (10) 9 2 4 2 1 4 6 10 2 11 6 (20) 11 2 - 75 pts
20th: Isaac McHardie / William McKenzie (NZL) 13 12 20 7 15 6 6 5 (32 BFD) 1 12 (23) 9 15 14 - 135 pts