Surprises come in a variety of ways and Annabelle Rennie-Younger and Andre Van Dam were pleasantly surprised after finishing third at the 470 Junior European Championships in Vilamoura overnight (NZ time).
The pair teamed up only this year, meaning the junior Europeans was their first major regatta together. They sailed consistently well all week, except for one race when they "went off the rocker", according to Van Dam, to finish on the podium alongside some significantly more experienced combinations.
Six of their seven results were in the top eight, including a second and third, and they showed good boat speed to get themselves out of some tight situations off the start line.
It is an encouraging result for the pair, especially as the junior 470 fleet is traditionally always strong and many past 470 Olympic medallists have featured in these events. Rennie-Younger is also new to the class, having switched from the ILCA 6 after a serious back injury.
"It was really just a check-in event for us and we were just happy to be learning in a fleet like this, so it comes as a little bit of a shock," Van Dam said. "We didn’t expect to be where we are right now so that changes a few things. We're happy to be surprised but we will need to have a think about our plan."
Rennie-Younger and Van Dam will join a contingent of fellow Kiwis training at the Olympic venue in Marseille before either competing at a world championship test event in The Hague or heading to the 470 Junior World Championships in Hungary. Their pinnacle event for the year will be October's 470 world championships in Israel.
It was also an encouraging regatta for Tim Howse and Rebecca Hume, another relatively new combination, with the pair finishing 13th overall in the 31-boat fleet and fourth in the under-21 division. The junior 470 is for sailors under 24.
Three New Zealand crews were also in Vilamoura for the 420 Junior European Championships, with Cam Brown and Alex Hebberd the best placed of the Kiwis in 24th overall. Joe Leith and Josh Ferrissey were eighth in silver fleet, despite three start-line disqualifications.
It was often a frustrating regatta, with a couple of days lost due to no wind, and only three finals fleet races were possible.
The bronze medal for Rennie-Younger and Van Dam was the fourth medal for a New Zealand crew under coach Nathan Handley during the European season. Handley also coached George Lee Rush and Seb Menzies to golds at Kiel Week and the 29er European Championships and bronze in the 29er at the Youth Sailing World Championships.
"It was so good having Nathan with us, especially given his experience," Van Dam said. "He calmed us down in those moments when we were getting quite nervous and anxious."
Results and standings after the 420 / 470 Junior European Championships in Vilamoura:
Mixed 470 (31 boats)
1st: Matisse Pacaud / Lucie de Gennes (FRA) 2 3 7 (8) 1 1 4 - 18 points
2nd: Beatriz Gago / Rodolfo Pires (POR) 10 5 (18) 1 6 5 2 - 29 pts
3rd: Annabelle Rennie-Younger / Andre Van Dam (NZL) 5 8 (25) 6 3 2 8 - 32 pts
13th: Tim Howse / Rebecca Hume (NZL) 14 13 (20) 10 20 20 2 - 79 pts
Open 420 (107 boats)
1st: Ian Walker March / Finn Dicke (ESP) 6 1 3 1 2 1 1 2 (10) - 17 pts
2nd: Marc Mesquida / Ramon Jaume Villanueva (ESP) 1 3 35 (55 BFD) 3 5 4 6 - 59 pts
3rd: Freddie Parking / Asher Beck (USA) 6 14 20 3 1 2 (20) 8 11 - 65 pts
24th: Cam Brown / Alex Hebberd (NZL) (47) 31 27 13 13 11 30 13 8 - 146 pts
62nd: Joe Leith / Josh Ferrissey (NZL) 24 37 12 (55 BFD) 55 BFD 8 3 54 BFD 2 - 195 pts
95th: Vivien Webster Chung / Kiera Sinton (NZL) 46 38 43 (55 BFD) 46 55 BFD 8 36 34 - 306 pts
- Pic: Annabelle Rennie-Younger and Andre Van Dam celebrate their third place at the 470 Junior European Championships. Photo: Osga Photo.