Life on the water is good for champion Fletcher

Stuart Bithell and Dylan Fletcher took gold in Miami to defend their title
Stuart Bithell and Dylan Fletcher took gold in Miami to defend their title

Market Harborough’s Dylan Fletcher and team-mate Stuart Bithell have defended their World Cup Series Miami title following a dramatic medal race in breezy conditions.

The pair, the current 49er world and European champions, got their 2018 campaign off to a flying start with victory at the regatta, the second of four World Cup dates in the run-up to the year’s main event, the Hempel Sailing World Championships.

Despite leading the fleet by three points going into Saturday’s double-points medal race, competition was so tight at the top that a podium place was far from guaranteed.

Spaniards Diego Botín le Chever and Iago López Marra, Fletcher and Bithell’s main threat for gold, got the better start and led the 10-boat fleet round the course at speeds of more than 20 knots as a fresh breeze blew through Biscayne Bay.

As the race reached its climax, Fletcher and Bithell found themselves in third place behind the Spanish crew and Austrian crew Benjamin Bildstein and David Hussl.

Had the race finished in that order the British pair would have had to settle for silver – but on crossing the line they found out the Austrians had been over the line at the start, handing them maximum points.

That put Fletcher and Bithell ahead by just a single point – and meant they retained the title they won at the 2017 event.

“It was wicked fun out there – sunshine, big breeze, flat water...what more could you ask for?” Fletcher said.

“We didn’t actually know we’d won until our coach came up to us at the end of the race and told us.

“We had our suspicions that the Austrians were over at the start but we knew we had to race them hard right until the end.”

The win gives Fletcher and Bithell the perfect start to the year following on from a successful 2017 that saw them win the 49er world and European championships and numerous other medals.

“We’d not done too much sailing in the build-up to Miami so we came here without any big expectations, but we worked really hard in training and came out and delivered,” added Bithell.