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NZ's best youth talent on show at this week's HARKEN Youth International Match Racing Cup

by Andrew Delves 8 Mar 23:04 PST 11-14 March 2021
HARKEN Youth International Match Racing Cup: Celia Willison © Andrew Delves / RNZYS

As the experienced match racing campaigners within Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli do battle this week for the oldest sporting trophy in the world, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, Home of the America's Cup, will be hosting the best youth match racing talent New Zealand has to offer as the 2021 HARKEN Youth International Match Racing Cup gets under way.

This year the event is purely made up of kiwi entries as it is too difficult for the overseas teams that this event usually attracts to get into the country, however there is still a great selection of up-and-coming talent hitting the water in the Squadrons fleet of Elliott 7 keelboats.

Last year's runner up Jordan Stevenson and his RNZYS Performance Programme Vento Racing Team are back in the hunt for the title, after losing out in last year's final to Australian James Hodgson and his world champion Cruising Yacht Club of Australia team. Stevenson and his team are very experienced, with plenty of wins under their belt, and will tough to beat this week.

Someone who Stevenson has had many a match race against is Nick Egnot-Johnson (RNZYS PP, KNOTS Racing). Ranked third in the open world rankings, Egnot-Johnson and his KNOTS Racing Team have this year secured a World Match Racing Tour card. This is Egnot-Johnson's last year competing on the youth scene before he ages out, and the 2019 champion is hoping to finish off with a victory at his home yacht club:

"This is my last year racing at the HARKEN Youth International so I'm very keen to give it a really good crack. We finished third last year which wasn't too bad, but we will be pushing to finish at the top again this time around. It's a really cool line-up this year with some pretty experienced male and female teams, as well as some fresh up-and-coming teams, so there will certainly be some good racing."

There are three all-female teams competing, including Celia Willison (RNZYS PP, Edge Women's Match), Megan Thomson (RNZYS PP, 2.0 Racing) and Ella Wilcox and her young team from Christchurch. Thomson has been improving a lot over the last two seasons, and is hopeful of a good showing this week:

"We have definitely come a long way as a team. We go sailing pretty much any chance we get, and even if it isn't just match racing, I think spending time sailing together has really helped us improve in all facets of sailing. We are pumped for this weekend, it's going to be a lot of fun out there, we've been training hard and hopefully we can put that into practice."

Another young sailor who is on the improve is Mastercard Youth Training Programme skipper Robbie McCutcheon. McCutcheon was unlucky to finish last at this event last year, but then came on in leaps and bounds to finish sixth at the (open) NZ Match Racing Championship just over six months later. The 19 year old is looking to win it and put a mark in the sand this week, and has revealed a potential secret weapon within his team:

"I'm really looking forward to this week and racing against the best youth match racers the country has to offer. My team and I are very excited to get out on the water and test our skills and see how well we can do. I've got a great group of guys with me this week, including Max Sirena's son Lorenzo, which will be a huge help and great fun. Our team and I are going out there to win it this week and we know it'll be a fantastic opportunity for us."

Travelling up from the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club in Wellington are teams led by Albert Stanley and Will Wright, who both have a fair amount of regattas at the RNZYS under their belts. Stanley will be full of confidence after taking out the NZ Youth Nationals in Wellington at the end of last year where he clean swept McCutcheon and Wright in the Semi-Finals and Finals respectively.

The final two teams are led by Max McLachlan and Josh Hyde. McLachlan is a current Mastercard YTP sailor with a bright future ahead of him, as is sixteen year old Hyde who spent time at Kawau Island for the RNZYS Mastercard Youth Training Week last year and finished second at the recent Starling Match Racing Nationals. Both will be looking to gather some more valuable experience on the water against an experienced field.

Racing will take place from Thursday through to Sunday, with racing to commence at 10am each day. The event format will consist of a round robin, quarterfinals, semi-finals, and petite final/grand final. All racing will take place on the water outside the RNZYS.

The RNZYS is very much looking forward to hosting another superb youth match racing event, under the superb sponsorship of HARKEN, and look forward to watching our future America's Cup sailors compete for the 2021 HARKEN Youth International Match Racing Cup trophy.

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