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McCutcheon the comeback king wins the Auckland Match Racing Championship

by William Woodworth/RNZYS 8 Dec 2021 20:19 PST 9 December 2021
GHC Racing winners of the Harken Auckland Match Racing Championships - December 2021 - Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron © Billy Woodworth

The Waitemata Harbour produced dream conditions for sailors for the 2021 Auckland Match Racing Championship supported by Harken.

A gusty Saturday turned into a consistent 20 knot breeze for Sunday, and it was amazing to see the RNZYS’s fleet of Elliott 7’s back out on water in a competitive, classy and consistently close weekend of racing.

After 2 disappointing losses to begin his campaign, Robbie McCutcheon and his GCH Racing crew of Sam Street, Chester Duffett, Jack Frewin and Lauchy Wills reset themselves and came storming back to add yet another match racing title to his collection, without dropping another race all weekend.

With Robbie entering the weekend as a strong favorite due being a defending 2-time CentrePort International Youth Match Racing Regatta Champion, having his first two races end in defeat to Megan Thomson and Josh Hyde came as a surprise to many watching. “As a team we had very high hopes on doing well at this regatta and it was a goal to win it for sure”, said Robbie.

“After such a long time off the water and not being able to race, winning this regatta feels really good for the entire team, especially as our first regatta as GCH Racing. We look to carry this forward and we are really excited for the potential opportunities we have over the coming season.”

The first race of Saturday set the expectations for the racing to come, with penalties being handed out to both Thomson and Robbie McCutcheon at the top mark. Megan outmaneuvered Robbie to start the first race in the regatta and beat him over the line, meaning Robbie had to attempt something to make his way back into the race but overran the mark and allowed Megan to dive inside and remain in front while both appealing for penalties.

“With the first two races of the regatta not going our way we naturally got a bit frustrated with a few things that were going wrong but we made the best effort to calm down and have a chat about the learning before moving forward”

An intriguing Saturday with changeable conditions and heavy currents gave Megan Thomson and her all-female 2.0 Racing crew the driver’s seat after day 1, after deservingly going unbeaten through the first round robin and using a bit of home-water advantage. However, every team was still within striking distance going into the business end of the weekend.

“We have been in these frustrating situations before and we all know how to reset and focus on the next race” said Robbie. “We are always confident in our abilities and our processes as a team so going through the same routine every race always allows us to correct our focus – it just so happened that we carried that confidence throughout the remainder of the regatta”. Max McLachlan and his Mastercard Youth Training Programme team

Despite having a smaller fleet than usual, every team showed up eager to impress in their first major regatta back, with excellent performances throughout Saturday leaving every team still in with a shot at the title going into Day 2.

Unfortunately for Megan Thomson and 2.0 Racing, “the rust of lockdown set in and we weren't quite able to hold onto that winning streak heading into round-robin two” as they fell in their first 2 races. However, 2.0 managed to rediscover their form, winning the remainder of their races and qualifying as the second seed for the finals series.

Josh Hyde continued his purple patch of form from winning the 2021 HARKEN Secondary Schools National Championships, with 6 wins including a flying start that got him a statement win over McCutcheon. The semifinal result and 4th place finish was a goal met by Hyde and his crew who sailed excellently all weekend, especially for a team freshly out of high school.

The Mastercard Youth Training Programme boats, helmed by Max McLachlan and Maeve White, both sailed better than their 1-9 records show and their duels throughout the weekend were consistently competitive. Their battle in the 5th/6th final needed all 3 races to split the boats and showed that both crews have quickly picked up match racing after a lot of time off the water. These crews will continue to improve as they get more experience and opportunities throughout the next few months of regattas and will be worth keeping an eye out for.

The Sunday semifinals were between Robbie McCutcheon and Josh Hyde, with Megan Thomson and Zak Merton’s KNOTS Racing in the other best of 5 match to decide who would challenge for the title of this year’s Auckland Champions. McCutcheon showed his experience and dispatched Hyde in 3 closely contested races, while Merton was able to hold his nerve and avenge his Saturday round robin loss to Thomson.

“We felt like we shot ourselves in the foot with few too many penalties and boat handling errors, which saw us lose to Zak Merton in the semifinals” said 2.0 Racing skipper Megan Thomson.

“We were happy to win two-nil over Josh Hyde in the petite finals and come away with Third place overall for the AMRC”, said Thomson. “We thoroughly had a blast at this event which reignited our love for match racing. The girls and I were stoked to have the opportunity to catch up after so long apart and spend more time on the water together”.

The final between McCutcheon’s GCH Racing and Merton’s Knots Racing was a brilliant matchup of two crews with huge amounts of potential and a goal to carry momentum into 2022. Both teams have been targeting the AMRC to kickstart a busy sailing season for both teams – Knots Racing as a World Match Racing Tour card holding team and GCH Racing looking to follow in their footsteps and target prestigious regattas in New Zealand and internationally.

The first race of the series was incredibly even throughout the whole race, with McCutcheon having the smallest of edges over Merton from start to finish. It was much the same with the second race, where GCH Racing had to cover KNOTS Racing in a picture-perfect example of defending a match racing lead.

“Once we gained the lead, we had to cover them intensely to stay in front because we didn’t want to let them get away and managed to hold on for the win”, said McCutcheon.

With a 2 race deficit, Merton had to get off to a good start to keep their Auckland Match Racing Championship chances alive. However, GCH Racing outmanoeuvred KNOTS in the pre start, with KNOTS receiving two penalties and being trapped outside the pin layline. This resulted in a black flagged race and a victory for McCutcheon and his crew.

“We are always wanting to sail against the best competition we can and we are lucky we can get that here in New Zealand. We obviously had a tough final series against Zak Merton and his crew which was a great learning experience for the team”, said McCutcheon

“We are very fortunate to have amazing support from Garden City Helicopters, Arepa and the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron to be given the opportunities to take on the match racing scene and make a name for ourselves overseas.”

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