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2018: My Year In Review

Happy New Year everyone!

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, were on Santa's 'good' list and enjoyed a safe and enjoyable New Year celebration with family and friends. I've finally had a few days off from both work and sailing and had the chance to sit down and reflect on a wonderful yet hectic twelve months in 2018. It seems a lifetime ago since I first got the opportunity to travel across to Auckland and participate in the highly competitive International Foiling Camp. January also marked the month I was chosen as a Cadet for the Sanctuary Lakes Foundation, support for which I will remain forever grateful. I was also introduced to the wonderful world of match-racing and twelve months on, I feel that I am finally beginning to understand the subtle nuances and skills so vital for success in this ultra-competitive sailing format.

February marked a significant turning point in my life; the decision to leave the comfort and safety of home and take up an opportunity to train in one of the World's leading keel boat programmes at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. The opportunity and potential to advance my dream of a professional career in the sport I love was simply too good to refuse and a decision that I have not regretted for a moment, despite the many difficulties in actually making it happen. February also provided an opportunity to see the next level of foiling; getting up close and personal with some of the World's best foilers at the Superfoiler Grand Prix in Geelong.

March saw a return to New Zealand for the Red Bull Foiling Generation World Series; an event like no other that I have experienced and an opportunity I hope to revisit in the near future. Competing in these extreme boats with no prior race experience and only a few days training to acclimatise was, in hindsight quite insane! Yet what an adrenaline rush - screaming along at previously inconceivable speeds suspended several feet off the water where the slightest mistake would be your last was a thrill that will remain with me for a lifetime. I've finally had a glimpse into the world of America's Cup sailing and understand why this cutting edge technology is pushing the boundaries of human endeavour. March also saw the arrival into town of the Volvo Ocean Race, one of the world's toughest sailing challenges, and a stark reminder of the perils at sea with the terrible passing of John Fisher shortly after leaving New Zealand.

April brought an opportunity for even more foiling on the Stratis SL-33, designed and created in-house by Emirates Team New Zealand and the end of foiling and extreme speeds for the summer; to be replaced by the tactical and initially alien world of match-racing. The Youth Match-Racing World Championship trials provided a baptism of fire and a sink-or-swim opportunity to gain selection for the National team to compete at Lake Ledro in Trentino, Italy. It was not to be, finishing fourth, but not surprising given the limited experience I had in this form of racing. May also marked the passing of Max Peters in tragic circumstances back home - another great loss to yachting.

May through to July, in the depths of a cold Auckland winter, saw an opportunity to hit the gym, work hard on the water and my return to the more traditional keel boat racing. Reminiscent of my time with the Moneypenny crew back home, I really enjoyed getting back to keel boat racing in a mixed fleet and just being out on the water, sailing without the frenetic pace of international competition.

In August I was chosen by the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria as the youngest recipient of the Yachtsman of the Year award for 2018. I was both humbled and honoured to receive such wonderful recognition and support from the club which started my sailing and I was even more proud to share the dais with my Dad; recipient of the Club Member of the Year Award. My only regret was not being able to attend in person to thank all those who have been such an important part of my journey.

The Aircalin Match-Racing Cup was held in September at the beautiful Noumea Yacht Club in New Caledonia; an international event that has marked the beginning of many aspiring champions in this format of racing. The competition saw a significant step-up in talent with hometown advantage proved decisive when the final whips got cracking. Another steep learning curve; another awesome experience and even more motivation to continue to evolve in this strategic battle of wits where differences are defined by the smallest of errors.

October saw a strong focus on preparing for yet another series of international events, this time in Sydney, where I had the opportunity to exploit both my Aussie and Kiwi backgrounds by representing both countries in different events and with different crews.

Late November I competed for New Zealand as part of the RNZYS Youth Team at the Harken International Youth Match Racing Regatta. A Grade 2 event attracting competitors from across the globe, we went on to win the Petite-Final against USA David Wood and crew, winning both of our last 2 races and securing third place overall for the event. Racing in this format is so close and it is such a fine line between victory and defeat. Consistency is the key, however, and after months of training and racing I finally started to enjoy the thrust and parry of this type of competition.

December saw the highest ranked event of the summer with the Musto International Youth Match Racing Regatta. Easily the toughest event I competed in all year, I was fortunate in being asked to race for Australia with Finn Tapper's team out of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. Despite only one day of training the day before the event, I absolutely loved the challenge of working with a new team and thoroughly enjoyed sailing with Finn; one of the leading helmsman in the next generation of match racers. Our fifth placing could easily have been so much more and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.

My final event for 2018 also provided my first-ever win in a major match racing event - the New Zealand Youth National Championships. While not competing against the same international field as the previous two events it was such a thrill to finally win; reward for the culmination of twelve months of hard work. I want to stress that in the world of match-racing so many things need to go your way for success and it never comes down to the actions of a sole individual. Match-racing is very much a team sport where chemistry plays such an important part in overall success. It also very much highlights the tactical skill of the person on the helm although without a good team, success will nearly always prove elusive.

I apologise for rambling on so much but if you actually made it this far it's been a hell of a year! I want to finally end this blog with a tribute and my everlasting thanks to all those people who have become part of this journey. There are simply too many of you to name individually but it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge my wonderful sponsors, the Sanctuary Lakes Foundation, the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, the awesome team of coaches and support staff and, of course, my wonderful family back home.

2019 promises to be even bigger with some huge news to be announced in the very near future so stay tuned.

"What the new year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the new year" Vern McLellan

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