Summer 2019 Report: Ben Willett & Aled Llewellyn-Jones

Busy Summer

As promised in our last update, summer was going to be a busy time for us!

World Championships, Poland

We kicked off a month of sailing by flying out to Poland for the World Championships in Gdynia.  We’d planned for light winds and being our first step onto the international stage were under no illusion about the challenge.  Qualifying began strong for us and some low scores gave us a lot of confidence.  We slipped towards the end of qualifying though and struggled for form when we needed it most and an illness the next day showed that maybe we’d been a little out of form physically for a few days despite expecting to compete.  We headed into finals with a lot of work to do but we took a huge amount from the event.  Pushing ourselves in a world championship in the most challenging conditions was only going to make us stronger and help us.  And so it proved, as we came back with a lot more confidence in tricky light wind / choppy conditions and we had a really great time there.  At the end of the event our boat was packed up and began the trip to Pwllheli for the UK Nationals while we had a day or so down-time before trying to beat the boat back!  Gdynia is an amazing venue and we’d go back tomorrow given the chance.  Our first 29er ‘Worlds’ was an experience we’ll remember forever.

 

UK Nationals, Pwllheli

And on to home waters…  It was good to see some of our new friends from Gdynia (sailors from the US and Virgin Islands) also coming to the UK to compete with us and we had a brilliant time in Pwllheli.  Our goals were to race a clean series and so with our coaches’ advice ringing in our ears it was a big knock to find we were judged over the line in only the second race…  We never dropped below 3rd overall in the first five races though but having counted a UFD our discard was already in the bank.  This brought more pressure for us and we had a good few days racing with higher stakes.  We found some great form and thanks to the GPS trackers from VR-Sport we later learnt we were the fastest boat over the ground during the championship too, reaching a maximum of 20.7 knots downwind in one of the races on the penultimate day.  We finished the Nationals with another 2nd in the final race bringing our tally of podium race finishes up to six for the week, and 8 races inside the top-10.  It gave us 8th overall and although we both felt a slight sense of “what if” we were proud of our first Nationals together.

European Champsionships, Lake Garda

Our trip to the Europeans was the big one.  Our families were all coming with us and we were looking forward to sailing at such an iconic venue.  It was incredible with over 200 29ers there from all over the World.  We narrowly missed the Gold fleet cut off and finished 8th in Silver helping ‘Team GBR’ lift the Nations Cup in the process.  Again we found that when we hit form we could compete with the best.  We had the boat-speed and the capability and just need to build the consistency to put ourselves up there.  We expected all of this in our first international season and have learnt so much and to compete in such a big event in Lake Garda was another memory of a lifetime.

Winds of Change

We came back from the summer events with a lot to reflect on and plenty of questions around our consistency and how we’d get the most out of ourselves for the future.  To cut a long story short, we made a tough decision to find new partnerships ready for the autumn and winter ahead.  We’d sailed together for just over a year and achieved more than we could have ever hoped for, yet it had become clear that to continue this progress we needed some change.  It was difficult, and most of all a tough one to announce to our families who’d supported us unconditionally throughout the last year.  But we mutually agreed that our best route forwards now was with new partnerships.  Thus it was within a days of the Weymouth Grand Prix 1 event (our RYA Youth Squad qualifier) we knew we would be heading there with a new helm / crew each.

Squad Selection in the balance?

There’s never good time to make such big changes to our individual campaigns with the potential effect it could have on our ambitions but we’d made our decisions, and we had to get on with it…  The Grand Prix event was strange for us in many ways.  We were both there seeing our year-long partner / helm / crew sailing with someone else.  For the first time in 29ers we were competing against each other rather than with each other.  And the stakes were high.  All year long we’d been working on raising our standard to a level where we would get selected into the RYA Youth squad and it had come down to this event.  We’d spent hours and hours together over the preceding year.  Perhaps it was no surprise that we both finished next to each other in the final results!

And then, one afternoon in late September we both duly received an email from the RYA…  “Congratulations on your selection!”  We had both made selection into the RYA Youth Squad.  Perhaps we’d gone about it the hard way?  Or perhaps we could see what it would take in order for us both to move forwards and achieve our goals?  Either way we got there and are now both moving on at pace, forever close friends, and with memories for life.

Thank you

In the meantime we must pay a huge thank you to our support and sponsorship from Neil Pryde Sailing, from BCC-IT and Harken / Team McLube. 
These things are easily written down and we genuinely mean it when we say thank-you. 

Your support has given us the kick to enable us to achieve so much in our first year.  We won the 2019 Harken UK Grand Prix Junior category in our first season in the class.  We’ve won races at national level in the UK  and finished races in the top 5 at World and European Championship level.  We won the British Youth Sailing Regional Championships in Wales in our class.  And we’ve travelled the world.  Your kit and your support has been critical to our success.  We’ve been prepared and equipped like champons and we’ve done our best to repay that with our hard work and our sailing this year.  Our appreciation is huge.   We couldn’t have done what we did this year without you.

In the meantime, we both continue on as 29er sailors and our updates will continue and we’ll bring you more news of what it’s like competing against each other in this incredible class. 


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