I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and an enjoyable New Year with family and friends. I've just got back from Hobart and have spent the last few days reflecting on another wonderful yet hectic twelve months in 2019. Looking back, last year was really about consolidation and exploration. After being introduced to the initially alien world of match-racing, 12 months on I feel that I am starting to understand all the nuances and complexities that go in to making a successful team and while I still have much to learn, I have also progressed a long way in this class of sailing.
Having been introduced to the world of big-boat sailing this year, I have found a new degree of appreciation for exactly how complex this type of racing is and how seriously skippers and crews, especially in Sydney, take every appearance on the race track. Without doubt, racing in this highly competitive environment raises the bar to a whole new level after my previous, very limited keel boat experiences in Melbourne. Even though the vast majority of boats are crewed by non-professional sailors, many of the larger boats employ a boat captain, who is ultimately responsible for the maintenance and seaworthiness of the yacht, the management of all crew and personnel, overseeing the inventory and new equipment purchases, and maintaining the boat's certificates and documentation. In addition, many of the more ambitious teams contract professional sailors, often from overseas, to fill critical crewing roles in major regattas like the Rolex Sydney Hobart. The other notable difference is the level of investment. Not only do many of these boats cost the same as a small house (or in some cases, a large one), the annual maintenance, storage and upkeep expenses are enormous. Full credit must go to every boat owner who has the passion, drive and the capacity to provide such a wonderful opportunity to so many people, sharing in their love for the water and the thrill of the competition.
The hardest part about 2019 for me has been adjusting to so many different types of yachts while competing across so many different categories of racing. Every crew shares a common goal; to be the best that they can be and ultimately, to be successful in their chosen class. The problem is that for each form of racing, most people specialise in that particular type of boat or style of racing and they spend a large amount of time, often years, mastering the specific skills required to achieve a high level of competency. When you try to live up to this level of expectation, while jumping in and out of vastly different yachts of all speeds, shapes and sizes, you cannot help but fall short and feel like you are letting the team down at times, mainly due to inexperience.
In the past 12 months, I have raced on a Foundation 36, Elliott 7, Carkeek 40, Ker 40, Farr 40, Sydney 38OD, TP52, 16ft skiff and also got out for a sail on a Nacra 17, I14 and even a Superfoiler. It makes me tired even thinking about it! These boats compete across many different types of racing including: match racing, class racing, fleet racing, short-course ocean racing and long-course ocean racing. Some of these races last less than 15 minutes while others can go for 3 1/2 days. Some of these events are held on enclosed, flat-water, racing across Sydney Harbour in the middle of the day in contrast to those raced on the open seas in the middle of the night. To make it even more exciting, in the past twelves months I have competed in Auckland, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Gold Coast, Whitsunday Islands and of course, Hobart.
2019 began in Perth in January at the Warren Jones International Youth Regatta. We raced in Foundation 36's representing the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) and finished a credible 5th against a quality international field. Immediately following this event, we flew back to Sydney for the Hardy Cup, 34 races held on Sydney Harbour in the Elliott 7's against another group of international teams. Competing as part of Finn Tapper's crew, we finished in fourth overall. Disappointing not to make the podium, but another strong result before returning to Auckland.
February presented an opportunity with an invitation to join the highly coveted CYCA Youth Sailing Academy. Recognised as one of the world's leading training programs; alongside the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron Youth Training Program. The chance to branch out into bigger boats and expand my match-racing opportunities was too great to pass up so I made the difficult decision to resign from my job, pack my bags and leave New Zealand for home.
March and April were all about establishing myself in Sydney and taking a few weeks off to recharge the batteries. After a wonderful few weeks back home in Melbourne with family and friends I even managed to squeeze in a family fishing trip to Papua New Guinea. Then it was back to the serious stuff. Finding a job, organising somewhere to live, buying a car, and saving some money to help establish myself in a new city where I knew very few people. Thankfully, I was very fortunate in being introduced to Jason Neuhaus, owner of Diverse Rigging and Yachting, who not only offered me a full time position but is supportive of my longer-term sailing ambitions at the Youth Academy.
In May, with help from my close friend Clare Olding, I finally made it to Sydney, set up my room, and started my new job as a rigger. The next big problem was getting selected on to a competitive keel boat! With the Academy program now underway, outside of our training we were strongly encouraged to participate in the Blue Water Pointscore. Arguably one of the most significant and competitive ocean events in Australia, the series is made up of six ocean races of varying distances and destinations, culminating in the Rolex Sydney Hobart. Representing the pinnacle for many ocean racers, a lot of the boats had well established crews who had been with them for years. Breaking in was never going to be easy and I am indebted to Shane Guanaria (Doyle Sails) and Ben Rice (Victoire Boat Captain) for giving me an opportunity to race as part of their crew on Victoire (Carkeek 40) and Zen (TP52).
In June I was named the Victorian Youth Sailor of the Year 2019. After living away from Victoria for over 16 months, I had very low expectations, especially given the quality of the other finalists, so it came as a big surprise. I have always believed that ultimate success is a team effort requiring many people behind the scenes and I would especially like to thank all those who have played such an important part, especially the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria for nominating me in the first place.
August was a ridiculously busy month. The first race of the Blue Water Pointscore was the Sydney to Gold Coast Race, a 384 nautical mile event attracting a fleet of 76 yachts, the largest in more than a decade. I was fortunate in securing a ride on The Goat, the Sydney 38OD that I ultimately raced on for the Hobart Race, and after 2 days and 8 hours of little sleep and many sail changes in the fluky conditions, we achieved our ultimate goal; a win in the Sydney 38 One Design division. The following weekend saw a short return to match racing for the NSW Youth Match Racing Championship before an amazing three weeks of racing at Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island Race Weeks on the TP52 Zen. What a fantastic experience it was, finishing second in our division at Airlie Beach where it all came down to the last race to determine the overall winner. Then to back it up with a third place at Hamilton Island. This was a whole new experience, competing in one of the most exciting racing classes in the world today against professional and semi-professional teams. I loved every minute of it and the island hospitality was amazing as well. I can't wait to return later this year!
September saw Race Two in the Blue Water Pointscore Series. The Flinders Islet is a 90nm event starting near Point Piper on Sydney Harbour. The fleet proceed out of Sydney Heads, south down the coast to Flinders Islet, before returning to finish in Rushcutters Bay. This time I was offered a ride on Showtime, a modified Grand Prix 40 footer from the Ker stable of yachts. This was a spectacular race, with strong 30+ knots providing some fast and furious running conditions down to Flinders Islet. After a solid slog uphill back to the finish line, we came away with another win in our division taking the honours across all three rating categories.
In October I was placed in a new match racing team which ultimately got selected to represent Australia in the Youth World Match Racing Championships. Our first event together was the Australian Youth Match Racing Championship hosted by the CYCA. With fellow crew members Nick Rozenauers, Harry Hall and helm James Hodgeson, after a tough contest on Sydney Harbour, we were stoked to score a win. We came away from the event happy but realistic, knowing that there is a lot more work ahead of us if we are to achieve ultimate success at a Youth World Championships. Race Three of the Blue Water Pointscore, the 215nm Newcastle to Bass Island Race, and I was lucky enough to get an invitation to rejoin the TP52 Zen. Unfortunately, due to gear failure, we were forced to withdraw from the race but thankfully no one was hurt.
In November, I managed to secure another ride on Zen for the Cabbage Tree Island Race, a 180nm event and the last serious hit-out before the Hobart. With a record fifty-eight yachts competing, there was significant damage experienced across the fleet in the gusty, sou-westerly breeze that built to 30-35 knots with gusts even higher. By race end, 22 of the 58 yachts had withdrawn, including us; the vast majority due to gear damage. 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 at the end of November. 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. 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, and further highlighted the tiny differences between success and failure at this level. I came away from the event disappointed that we didn't quite make the semi-finals, finishing in 5th place, but enthused by how competitive we were against some of the best match racers in the World.
December, of course, means only one thing in international yachting: the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. My longest sailing event so far, we crossed the finish line in the Sydney 38OD Goat after 3 days, 5 hours and 44 minutes at sea. Among a starting fleet of 157 boats on Sydney Harbour, we had a bit of everything! A spectacular start surrounded by a horde of spectator boats, a wild broach under spinnaker an hour out of Sydney Heads and periods of frustration when the wind changed and the game of snakes and ladders began, with navigators and crews battling their way through light and variable winds. All culminating in a glorious match race across Storm Bay and up the Derwent to the finish line against arch rival and fellow Sydney 38 competitor Cinquante. Thankfully, after a titanic struggle throughout the whole race, we claimed victory by a mere 2 minutes and 16 seconds to win the Sydney 38 Division.
If you managed to get to the end of my year in review then I congratulate you but as you can see, it's been another action-packed 12 months! I'm frankly too exhausted to even attempt to tell you about all of the wonderful plans ahead for 2020 so I will save this up for another day. I'm about to take a short holiday before returning to work mid-January but I cannot finish without acknowledging and thanking the many people who have stuck by me and contributed towards my success. There are simply too many of you to name individually and I apologise if I have forgotten anyone but I would like to make special mention and share my thanks to the Sanctuary Lakes Foundation, the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, Gordon Ketelbey, Shane Guanaria and crew (Zen), Mitch, Tony, Gibbo and crew (Goat), Ben Rice, Darryl Hodgkinson and crew (Victoire), Mark Griffith and crew (Showtime), my fellow crew members and Youth Academy teammates at CYCA, the awesome team of coaches and support staff and, of course, my wonderful family back home.