Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders believe they are in good shape to win a medal at next month’s Nacra world championships, assuming they go ahead.
The medal races at the sailing world championships test event in Aarhus – a warmup for next year’s combined world championships - were cancelled at the weekend after the new foiling Nacra 17s were recalled for safety reasons to replace the bearings on the daggerboards.
The world’s top Nacra sailors had only recently taken possession of the first batch of the new foiling catamarans that will be used at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and there is uncertainty about whether they can be refitted with adequate replacement parts in time for the class world championships in France.
Jones and Saunders, who were sailing together for the first time since finishing fourth at last year’s Rio Olympics, collected silver at the test event but were disappointed to miss out on the chance to finish one better.
“We thought we had improved a lot during the week and really wanted to be able to push for the gold in the [three] medal races,” Saunders told Radio Sport. “But we don’t want to take away from a good week. We sailed pretty well and were happy with our result.
“We didn’t have any expectations because we hadn’t sailed together [for a year] and it usually takes a while to get that chemistry back but we managed to come out firing on the first day.”
The pair sailed consistently well all week, collecting seven top-four finishes in the 10 races. They sailed in a relatively small fleet of only 14 boats, largely because many combinations are still waiting for delivery of a new foiling Nacra.
Jones and Saunders should know more this week about whether the world championships will go ahead. Two sets of foils on other boats broke during the test event, prompting Nacra Sailing to issue a recall notice.
Saunders expects the new parts to be fitted to the boats in the next fortnight but they will also have to undergo rigorous testing to ensure they are safe.
“Hopefully it’s just a small fix,” he said. “Everyone wants to get back sailing because we are learning a lot about these new boats. We just want to put this behind us and get going as quickly as we can.
“It’s the same for everyone because we are not allowed to sail at this point until they have resolved the issue. In terms of preparation [for the world championships], it’s not ideal but no one is sailing so we’re not losing out. There are still things we can be doing to work on the boat and there’s plenty of footage to look over.”
Some of that will show Jones and Saunders capsizing in a couple of races as they got to grips with the new boats and sailing together again. Saunders recently finished third in the Tour de France Voile, a three week race around France, and Jones was 11th with Aon Fast Track member Micah Wilkinson at the European championships.
“We had a couple of capsizes which you expect when coming back together again but I think we improved a lot,” Saunders said. “We found out these boats really suit us. The new foiling boats are definitely what we enjoy sailing.
“While we have not been sailing together, we have learned a lot from sailing other boats and put that together to help us. We are really happy with our time off and can give these worlds a good shot. I really hope they go ahead.
“If we sail well, we think we are definitely in with a shot of a podium, and that’s always the goal at the worlds. We definitely have the tools to go out there and put in a really good result. We are really happy with our speed, which is the most important thing in these early days. With a bit more time together, hopefully we can work on our boat handling and make sure we avoid those capsizes and costly errors.”
The world championships are due to get under way in La Grande Motte, near Montpellier in France, on September 5.