The final match racing event of the year and the first ever World Sailing Grade 1 for the east coast of Australia, the Musto International Youth Match Racing Regatta, was held last week, hosted by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. Twelve international teams from Australia, New Zealand, United States of America, Great Britain and Ireland contested the four-day event, with six competitors inside the Top 25 and only three outside the Top 50 in the World Sailing match racing rankings. Competitors included kiwis Nick Egnot-Johnson, ranked 2nd in the World, and fellow kiwi Jordan Stevenson (ranked #12). Australia's hopes rested on current Youth Match Racing World Champion, Tom Grimes and crew; our team with James Hodgson, the current Australian Youth Match Racing Champions; and runner-up Finn Tapper's team, also from the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.
The opening day of the event got off to an intense start as wild weather conditions swept across Sydney Harbour at midday, temporarily postponing racing. It was always going to be a difficult day on the water, with the Bureau of Meteorology issuing a storm warning for Sydney for the late afternoon. Only five sets of races (flights) were completed due to the ever-changing conditions.
Perfect Sydney weather greeted us on Day Two with sunshine, warm temperatures and an nice breeze ranging between 7-14 knots; ideal conditions for match racing in Rushcutters Bay. The international teams dominated as all crews battled it out for the prized top four spots after the round-robin. A top four finish gives those teams a berth in the quarter-finals and allows them to skip the repechage restart round the following day.
On Day Three, before starting the Quarter-Finals, the Race Committee had the difficult task of not only finishing off the round robin qualifying stage, but completing the 8 team repechage stage as well. On another ideal sailing day on Sydney Harbour, with 8-18 knots blowing from the north-east, there were mixed results right from the beginning of the day. In the last flight of the round robin, we managed to grab the final Top 4 spot by beating Finn Tapper while Frankie Dair (USA) lost to David Wood (USA). All in all, 43 races were completed, with 6 of the 12 teams knocked out of contention.
Moving into the quarter-finals, Jeffrey Petersen (USA) unexpectedly dominated Nick Egnot-Johnson (NZ) in the opening race. Petersen looked set to record a second victory over the World #2 when he again penalised him in the pre-start and led down the first run, but a poor tactical decision at the gate allowed Egnot-Johnson to take his penalty and move into the lead to level the series. The kiwi then took a comfortable victory in Race 3 to secure a place in the semi-finals.
In the other quarter-final, it was an intense battle from the outset with fellow CYCA Academy members and former team mates Tom Grimes and James Hodgson going head-to-head for the first time since their win together at the Youth Match Racing World Championships earlier this year. Both teams were never more than a few boat lengths away from each other during the entire series.
We managed to get the early jump in Race 1, and were leading in Race 2 when Tom's team came from behind to pip us at the post by a mere 1 second in the closest of finishes ever. Emotions were running high in Race 3 and racing became extremely aggressive with Tom ramming us around the bottom gate, resulting in significant damage. Despite this, they managed to overtake us and gain enough distance to complete their penalty turn and take the series lead. Back at the CYCA, Tom was found in breach of heavy contact and was given a 0.75pt penalty for the collision. The deciding race, held the next day, was a bit of an anticlimax with Tom's team securing their place in the semi-finals and eliminating us from this year's contest.
Congratulations to Jordan Stevenson, Mitch Jackson, George Angus, Jake Erson and Seb Lardies, who were declared the overall winners of the 2019 ‘Joy Ride’ Trophy, representing the powerful Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron under the direction of my former coach Rueben Corbett. In the Petit-Final, it was a re-match with Tom Grimes (AUS) against long time rival and world champion runners-up Nick Egnot-Johnson (NZ). Once again it took all three races to decide the winner, with the kiwi from RNZYS coming out on top this time around.
Over the four-day competition, 93 races were completed, with the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia once again delivering a superb regatta. It was an incredibly tight event, well deserving of it's international status as Australia's only Grade One event, and further highlighted the tiny differences between success and failure at this level. I come away from the event disappointed that we didn't quite make the semi-finals, but enthused by how competitive we were against some of the best match racers in the World.
We have a lot of work to do before competing in next year's Youth Match Racing World Championships, but remain even more motivated and confident that on our day, we can be competitive against anyone!