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Starling Nationals: Herbert makes history for RNZYS

by Andrew Delves- RNZYS 18 Apr 2019 05:20 PDT 19 April 2019
Sean Herbert (1333) won the 2019 Starling Nationals by the narrowest of margins © Andrew Delves

Seventeen year old Sean Herbert has made history by becoming the first person to ever win the NZ Starling Nationals three times in a row. Herbert, sailing for the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, has pulled off the three-peat in a regatta that came right down to the final race at the Taipa Sailing Club.

No one has ever won the Starling Nationals three times in a row, and although some have gone back to back – including ETNZ Skipper and Olympic Gold Medallist Peter Burling – the three-peat is now exclusively Herbert’s to hold on to - “I did my first nationals when I was 14 but I fell short on that one after I slipped from first to third on the last day. The next year I won the event at Wakatere, then I also took it out in Wellington the following year and that’s when I found out the back to back had only been done by three people – one of them being Peter Burling. After learning that, I decided that I had to have another crack this year and see if I could be the first person to win three in a row.”

Asked whether he would try for four in a row, Herbert was just happy he managed to pull this one off and wouldn’t like his chances if he tried to do it again, mainly because he is getting a bit too big for the small class of boat – “I think the oldest competitor this year was 61 so you can stay in it as long as you like, but I’m over 6 foot now and I’m 60kgs so I’m getting on the brink of being too big.”

Herbert sails under the Squadron burgee, and has done for a few years now. This came about when his family built Young Guns - a 35 foot carbon coastal racer which they race in the RNZYS club racing series’. Bruce, Sean’s father, realised both of his sons were dead keen on yachting and figured he needed to get a boat so he could sail with them, rather than watching them through the binoculars on the weekends. He has also represented the RNZYS overseas, notably at the 2017 BIC Worlds in Italy which he won.

Herbert describes why he chose the RNZYS as his club of choice – “We used to live on the beach at Manly up until a couple of years ago so I used to just go out the back yard and go sailing and never had to travel to a club as such. Once we had the family boat built {Young Guns} I started sailing out of the RNZYS a lot so it made sense that I would represent the Squadron. This year especially, in the coming up to making history, I thought I should do it for a club where history is so profound.”

Herbert hasn’t quite locked down his next move, but has plenty of options on the table and realises it’s getting to the pointy end of decision making time – “I’ve got to weigh that up over the coming weeks. Ever since I was young I’ve wanted to go fast, so I’m looking at foiling. My brother and I have been sailing in the wasps which is great fun. I’ve had some success with a friend in the 29er as well so I’m possibly looking at doing the 49er – but basically the Olympics is the direction I want to head in at the moment.”

Sitting in the interview with an Emirates Team New Zealand shirt on, it was natural that match racing and a future in the America’s Cup was quizzed upon –“Yeah I’m really keen on match racing and teams racing. I went to England last year with RNZYS YTP Coach Reuben Corbett and we did the open teams racing worlds which was a lot of fun. Although I do see the match racing and teams racing as something I can pursue later on, whereas the clock is ticking if I want to go to the Olympics.”

The competition this year in Taipa was the toughest of all of the three titles he has won, with Herbert only claiming one win across the 12 races in a regatta that was sailed in predominantly light airs. However it was the twelfth and final race that brought it home, and judging from his descriptions and various reports from those who were on the water – it was one for the ages.

Herbert needed to finish two spots ahead of Nathan Vince if he was going to claim the title - “I was trying to do it in my head out there and I calculated it as there being two points in it so I knew I had to get two boats between us before the finish. I played around with him on the downwind and then we got to the bottom mark and it was freak out time – I was telling myself that I just have to get this! After rounding the bottom mark it turned into a match race, I dialled him down and managed to get a couple of boats between us. Then it was just a float to the finish and I think it was a photo finish between 3 or 4 of us.”

Herbert went on to finish third in that epic final race, and with Vince finishing in fifth, Herbert topped the standings by one point which was enough to secure the three peat and write Herbert’s name into the history books -“The conditions and the level of competition this year made me work really hard for it and I’m super stoked to come out on top. Now I’ve gone back to back to back and pulled off the three peat which hasn’t been done by anyone else, I’ve put my stamp on it and I couldn’t be any happier.”

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