Iain Percy and Steve Mitchell have won the Star world championship

Team GBR sailors Iain Percy and Steve Mitchell won the final race of the 81st Nautica 2002 Star Class World Championship in California to secure the world title and make a name for themselves in sailing history as the first Brits to win this prestigious event.

They sailed into the California Yacht Club dock victorious with a Union Jack flying from their mast, although Percy did not realise that they had it on board.

“He put that in the cool box this morning and didn’t tell me. I would have thought it was bad luck.” Percy said.

The way they sailed, luck didn’t matter. Neither Percy (26, Winchester), the 2000 Olympic Finn class gold medallist, nor Mitchell (32, London), past Etchells world and European champion, had sailed a Star until 10 months ago. They have put in a lot of hard work training both in America and at home and have gradually moved up the world rankings to 17.

With finishes of 4-1-3-2 in the 103-boat fleet in the previous four races, they entered the sixth and final race with a four-point lead over 1990 champions Torben Grael and Marcelo Ferreira of Brazil and nine points over France’s Xavier Rohart and Yannick Adde. Although Grael finished fourth and Rohart tenth, neither really threatened Percy and Mitchell on the final day, who led at every mark.

Boosted by breezes as strong as 14 knots they finished 41 seconds ahead of 1998 winner Colin Beashel of Australia, who had David Giles as crew. Three-time winner Bill Buchan of Seattle, with Mark Brink, crossed the line in third place.

Counting Grael, Beashel and Buchan, Percy/Mitchell put away 11 former champions. Paul Cayard, the 1988 champion sailing with Hal Haenel, also a world and Olympic champion as crew, finished fifth on the final day to end up fourth overall.

Percy and Mitchell tried to hide near the left end of the 1,000-metre starting line to avoid being drawn into a confrontation with their nearest rivals, Grael/Ferreira who were the only people that could oppose Percy/Mitchell on their quest for gold.

“They never really got to us,” Percy said. “We were keeping our heads down before the start, so we couldn’t set up early because he’d come at us. But we had really good speed on the first beat – really good speed!”

Both boats went left while most of the fleet went right. The Brits broke back toward the middle first as the Brazilians stayed on starboard tack for the first 15 minutes. Rohart/Adde fared better on the 2.1-mile upwind leg to round the first mark a few lengths behind Percy/Mitchell, with Grael/Ferreira eighth. The French dropped away downwind as the Brazilians climbed to fifth, then third, but that’s as close as they got.

Percy said, “Steve was giving me a running commentary on where Xavier and Torben were. We stayed on top of it. He’s one of the best crews around. We complement each other’s strengths.”

Percy had always been a solo sailor until joining up with Mitchell last autumn. They came to California knowing little of the class history, let alone the UK’s lack of a champion in it.

“We didn’t know that until this week,” Mitchell said. Percy added, “it certainly adds something to it.” It was a tough second place for Grael and Ferreira, the only entry with all single-digit finishes. Percy and Mitchell, the only team to win two races, were able to discard their opening 19th place.

RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park commented, “With the calibre of the sailors at the Star worlds and the depth of experience that those sailors have in the class, it was always going to be a tough regatta. Iain and Steve have excelled themselves, nobody could have expected that after a relatively short amount of time in the boat that they would have mastered the Star so successfully and I am delighted for them.”

Overall Results

1, Iain Percy/Steve Mitchell, GBR ((19),4,1,3,2,1) 11 pts

2, Torben Grael/Marcelo Ferreira, BRA (3,1,5,(9),5,4) 18 pts

3, Xavier Rohart/Yannick Adde, FRA (6,8,2,(33),3,10) 29 pts

4, Paul Cayard/Hal Haenel, USA (7,9,4,8,(40),5) 33 pts

5, Rick Merriman/Bill Bennett, USA ((53),7,8,4,15,12) 46 pts

6, Peter Bromby/Martin Siese, BER ((33),2,32,5,1,9) 49 pts

7, Colin Beashel/David Giles, AUS ((41),19,11,2,18,2) 52 pts

8, Mark Mansfield/Killean Collins, IRE (2,13,17,25,7,(104)) 65 pts

9, Mark Reynolds/Magnus Liljedahl, USA ((78),5,29,1,10,22) 67 pts

10, Howie Shiebler/Rick Peters, USA ((70),21,30,6,4,6) 67pts