The pair went into the top-10 medal race in second, eight points behind Kevin Peponnet and Jeremie Mion and needing to finish at least four boats ahead of the French combination. They managed to do that in the double points showdown, with Snow-Hansen and Willcox fourth and the French ninth in the light 5-8 knot sea breeze.

Spain’s Jordi Xammar and Nicolas Rodriguez were third overall and multiple world champions and defending Olympic champions Mathew Belcher and Will Ryan of Australia fourth.

“Obviously we were in a pretty tight spot in second place [going into the race] and we were really just trying to execute what we thought would work on the day and really hoped that an opportunity would present itself,” Snow-Hansen said. “We were pretty stoked when we went across the finish line and started to work out that we’d actually taken the title.”

New Zealand has a proud history in the men’s 470, and Willcox’s father Hamish won three world titles with David Barnes in the 1980s, but no Kiwis had won the European championships since Simon Cooke and Peter Nicholas in 2000. 

Cooke played a key role in this week’s result, teaming up with youngster Andre Van Dam a couple of years ago to be training partners for Snow-Hansen and Willcox, and that association became even more important as the Kiwis were confined to New Zealand due to Covid-19.

The European championships was the first international regatta for Snow-Hansen and Willcox in 18 months and they didn’t really know how they would go against the world’s best combinations after so long in the wilderness.

“Because we had been out of the loop, we just came in here focusing on what we had learned in New Zealand,” Snow-Hansen said. “We were just wanting to see how we measured up and we’re really excited with how we ended up going.

“For sure it’s a confidence booster for us [leading into the Olympics] but, at the same time, we have a bit of work to do. Our competition isn’t going to stop training now they are just ramping up into a nice European summer so we are going to have to keep the throttle down and try to build on this.”

Snow-Hansen and Willcox sailed impressively across the six days, and were the only crew to finish in the top 10 in all 12 races in the 29-boat men’s fleet. They showed good speed throughout the regatta and also made good decisions tactically in what was often treacherously shifty conditions in Vilamoura. 

It was also a good way to potentially finish what has been a long journey for the pair, who first teamed up in 2013 and will soon go to their second Olympics together.

“It’s a cool way to wrap up our last event in Europe,” Willcox said. “Most likely, this will be the last event in Europe for Snowy and I so to finish on a note like that and win a European title… is epic. Totally stoked.”

Snow-Hansen and Willcox will soon head back to New Zealand and return to training with coach Geoff Woolley (following quarantine) before venturing to Japan in July. They will now know anything is possible. 

It will also be a boost to the rest of the NZL Sailing Team and Josh Junior and Andy Maloney will tonight race in their first Olympic classes regatta in 18 months at the Finn Gold Cup (world championships) in Porto.

Results and standings after the final day of the 470 European Championships in Vilamoura, Portugal:

Men (29 boats)

1st: Paul Snow-Hansen / Dan Willcox (NZL) 1 (10) 6 7 1 4 4 3 8 8 5 8 – 55 points

2nd: Kevin Peponnet / Jeremie Mion (FRA) 9 9 1 4 (13) 2 2 1 5 4 2 18 – 57 pts

3rd: Jordi Xammar / Nicolas Rodriguez (ESP) 10 2 4 5 6 11 (12) 8 3 1 4 10 – 64 pts

Full results