Last Sunday, alongside fellow crew members Harry Hall, Nick Rozenauers and skipper James Hodgson, we achieved a lifelong dream by being crowned 2020 Youth Match Racing World Champions. Many of my family, friends and supporters are already aware of the result, courtesy of Facebook, and I am both grateful and humbled by the many messages of support.
Rather than rehash the specific details of the racing itself, which has been well documented by the host club Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and posted on Sail-World, I thought I would provide you a modified extract of an interview I was asked to participate in for Māori TV. I hope that this will provide you with a little insight into the event itself and what it means to both me and my teammates.
As many of you know, my Mum is Māori and I have a strong affinity with my cultural background. I am super lucky to have such strong whakapapa (ancestry/lineage) with my Great Grandmother Diggeress Te Kanawa, being one of the most renowned Maori weavers of her time. To wear the korowai (a traditional woven Māori cloak) she made, in front of my teammates and the whole sailing community will remain a cherished memory for life.
(Modified Extract of interview conducted with James Perry; Multimedia Journalist for Māori TV)
Where did you grow up?
I was born in London. My Mum is Māori, and Dad Australian although we moved from London to Australia when I was very young and I grew up and did my schooling in Williamstown, Victoria.
How did you get into sailing?
Dad was a keen sailor when he was younger and has been involved in yachting for most of his life. Growing up in Williamstown right near the waters of Port Phillip, Dad became involved with our local yacht club, Royal Yacht Club of Victoria, and I followed in his footsteps and began sailing soon after.
How has your family supported you in your sailing career?
I have always had the support not only of Mum and Dad, but my younger brother and sister as well. As a family, we spent a large amount of time at the yacht club and a lot of our holidays and social activities were based around sailing and the water.
Mum and Dad never pushed me into sailing growing up, it has always been something that I have enjoyed doing. It was a great way to make friends as a kid and I have always loved competing in just about anything and everything. I found that sailing was something that I was quite good at from an early age so I naturally gravitated towards it.
There was never any pressure to compete internationally. This was something that I wanted to do for myself. Racing locally was always fun but I was keen to test my limits and challenge myself on a bigger stage, leading me to train and compete in New Zealand straight after finishing secondary school.
What is Match Racing?
A match race is a race between only two competitors, going head-to-head. This is a different format from a fleet race, which almost always involves three or more competitors competing against each other, and teams racing, where teams consisting of 2, 3 or 4 boats compete together in a team race with their results being combined. The rules are different for each format and the skills and strategy each team uses will also change.
The Youth World Match Racing Championships consist of twelve teams, selected from around the World, and it is an invitation-only event. To be chosen, each team must nominate by lodging an Expression of Interest before the closing date for nominations, and the organising authority will ‘invite’ the highest-ranked teams, based on current and previous results.
The racing itself is conducted in identical boats, in this case Elliott 7 Keelboats provided by the host club. The World title is held once a year, with the host nation alternating between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Individual yacht clubs must also nominate for the right to host the event. All teams share the same boats, and the teams are required to change boats regularly throughout the regatta so that no team can gain an advantage. For all intents and purposes, the boats are identical in every way. Ultimately, success comes down to the skill of the individual teams.
This Championship is classified as a World Sailing event consisting of four days of match racing that includes a Round Robin stage, Semi Finals, Petit Final and Final, with the winning team being crowned World Champion. All competitors must be under 23 years old on 31st December 2020. This event is considered the most important Youth Match Racing regatta in the world.
How are the teams made up?
In Match Racing on Elliott 7's, a team can consist of 4 or 5 persons (either men or women). The defining factor is the total team (crew) weight. The total weight of the crew, including the skipper (captain), dressed in at least shorts and shirts, shall not exceed 350kg. Ideally, most teams try and get as close to the total weight limit as possible without exceeding it, because weight is an advantage in reaching maximum speed in any breeze that is moderate or higher. Most 5-person teams include several smaller, or lighter crew. It is generally considered easier to race with a team of 4 if possible, because you have more space to work in and are less likely to get in each other’s way.
Tell us a little bit about the racing over the weekend
Success at a World Championship is the ultimate achievement in our sport. From a very young age, we all grow up watching our ‘sporting heroes’ achieve on the public stage and it is only natural that one day, you might be able to emulate that success.
So much goes into even getting to the starting line. Competing against the best sailors in the World and with so many teams nominating for entry, even to get invited usually involves winning your home National Championships or at the very least, a strong resume of consistent results at the highest level. It takes months or even years of preparation and teamwork to learn all the nuances of the sport and I consider myself so fortunate to be able to compete with such a great bunch of mates, whatever the eventual outcome.
The racing itself is also very demanding. With identical boats, it often comes down to the smallest things that separate a win from a loss and in most cases, victory is achieved by the team that makes the fewest mistakes. The races are held over a very narrow course and over a very short time frame so there is little margin for error. In many races, the winning margin is measured by less than a single boat length.
From a personal point of view, it was even more special to achieve success in New Zealand, a huge part of my heritage, and in front of my Grandparents and the rest of the whanau (extended family).
Where do you think you won it?
Ultimate success in match racing is all about consistency and doing all the basics well. It is nearly impossible to go through a match racing championship without a loss, given the tight nature of the racing and the quality of the opposition, and there is always an element of luck. Sometimes you can be behind and out of position and a slight change in wind strength or an unexpected gust on the water can propel you past your opponent and into the lead.
Clear and concise communication, trust, patience and strong teamwork all play a critical part of any win. As a team, we faced many challenges throughout the event and put ourselves under pressure early on by losing the first three Round-Robin races. Staying calm, focusing on our individual and team roles within the boat and doing all the little things well went a long way towards our ultimate success.
What does winning it mean for yourself and your team?
I think every sailor who has ever competed in a yacht race has thought about what it would be like to win a World Championship. Obviously, it is the highlight of my sailing career so far and in many ways, a reward for the many personal sacrifices you make for your sport along the way. Even more special was to win it with such a great bunch of guys. My fellow teammates are all so talented and I consider it both an honour and a privilege to sail with them regardless of the eventual result.
How proud were you and your whānau, to wear that korowai?
It is hard to put into words how significant and special it was for me to achieve one of my lifelong dreams in front of my Grandparents and the rest of the whanau and to wear the korowai my Great-Grandmother made. The only thing missing was my family back in Australia. It would have been wonderful to share that moment with them as well.
What are your sailing aspirations?
Growing up, I think every young sailor has dreams of competing at the Olympics. This was certainly an aspiration of mine in my teenage years. Now that I’m in my 20’s my focus has shifted away from this type of sailing and more towards the high-speed, cutting edge developments that are shaping the future of our sport. I have had a small taste of sailing at extreme speeds on foiling boats and would love to get involved in this type of sailing as part of a professional team.
Currently, I’m trying to experience a bit of everything and have even started ocean racing in events like the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. My focus is on training hard, learning as much as I can, and hopefully defending our World Championship again next year.
What is coming up for you in the near future? Your next regatta, etc?
I’m currently back in Australia competing on the TP52 Zen, which is a great thrill. Later in the year, I hope to race in the Farr 40 World Championship in Sydney. I’m also having a look at how I can get myself on a Youth America’s Cup team.