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Harken NZ Match Racing title decided in the final seconds of final race

by William Woodworth/RNZYS Media 24 Jan 21:34 PST 25 January 2022
Nick Egnot-Johnson and Knots Racing - Harken NZ NZ Match Racing Championship - Royal NZ Yacht Squadron - January 22-24, 2022 © RNZYS Media

Three days of world-class match racing came down to a matter of seconds on finals day at the 2021 Harken New Zealand Match Racing Championships, with 2019 Champions Nick Egnot-Johnson and his KNOTS Racing of Sam Barnett, Zak Merton and Tim Snedden winning in one of the tightest finishes the NZMRC has seen over Reuben Corbett in a five race final.

Their dramatic five race final included protests and penalties in both Race 1 and 2 pre-start, a man almost overboard in Race 3, and a penalty within the final 5 meters of Race 5 that won the title for the KNOTS Racing team. The two teams weren't able to be split all weekend and having raced in many match racing championships before, knew their opponent's strategies and were able to telegraph each other's moves in what turned the pre-starts into a fishtailing ballet along the Westhaven Marina seawall.

After splitting their Round Robin matchups with one race each and having been the form teams throughout the regatta having only lost to each other, the 2021 final was always going to be tight. The 2 skippers know each other very well, with the 2019 NZMRC final being contested by the same skippers, and Corbett being the RNZYS Performance Programme coach for Egnot-Johnson and many of the other skippers in the fleet.

The 3 days of sailing also included the NZ Women's Match Racing Championship, which was won by Megan Thomson and her 2.0 Racing team that won over Maeve White. The win was fitting send off for 2.0 crew member Serena Woodall, who is off to compete in the Youth Foiling Gold Cup as part of the New Zealand team.

The NZMRC had to be moved twice due to Covid restrictions, which meant 7 crews took to the start line outside the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron for the 2021 championship. However with the third time proving lucky, racing got off to a slow start with time limit abandonments and mark movements being the most action through the first morning of racing. Once the westerly breeze picked up however, the race committee managed to get through the entire Round Robin 1 and into Round Robin 2 on the first day of racing to put the regatta ahead of schedule.

Reuben Corbett made the most of the lighter conditions on day 1 and was able to make it to Round Robin 2 unbeaten. Corbett was able to make excellent starts all day to give him an upper hand without any distinct passing lanes available to trailing boats on the Waitemata. Corbett's crew weren't able to have any training time, but he was still able to teach his Performance Programme skippers a few tough lessons - drawing penalties throughout the day on his opponents and winning a round robin match over Maeve White after having 3 penalties called against her and getting the race black flagged.

The race between Corbett and Egnot-Johnson in Round Robin 1 showed why these two crews ended up having a rematch in the final, with the boats matching one another for positioning in the pre-start. The skippers decided to take different strategies, with Egnot-Johnson taking the port line closer to the Harbour Bridge while Corbett stuck to starboard. Corbett led by a boat length at each mark, and while the Knots Racing team kept within striking distance on the final leg, they weren't able to make up enough of the gap.

Megan Thomson and her 2.0 Racing crew were involved in the tightest racing on Day 1, with close finishes against both Braedyn Denney and Josh Hyde. 2.0 Racing led both races early and had excellent starts all weekend, but were struck by penalties, bad luck and a wipeout throughout their races.  After getting penalized against Denney at the pre-start, they were able to lead to the bottom mark but with Denney being within a few boat lengths, the penalty was enough for Denney to take the lead and kept Thomson at bay for the final leg.

Denney and his crew performed excellently for a crew without any training, and were able to shake off the rust early to beat Thomson but struggled as the breeze picked up from the middle of day 1.

Thomson and 2.0 then had to race familiar faces in Josh Hyde and his Yosemite Sam Racing team, after the two teams had some excellent races throughout the Auckland Match Racing Championship - and this was no different as Thomson never led by more than 2 boat lengths throughout. Thomson had to risk taking a last minute penalty from a protest by Hyde during the final tack for both for the final sprint to the finish, but the umpires decided to green flag the protest and gave 2.0 Racing a tight victory.

Day 2 saw enough time for the completion of Round Robin 2 and the semi-finals on what was a stunning Saturday afternoon in Auckland with a steady southwest breeze, which turned Day 3 into an out-and-out finals day for the petit final and to decide the New Zealand Men's and Women's Match Racing Champion. 

One of the early highlights of the day was a feisty pre-start between Corbett and 2021 Auckland Match Racing Champion Robbie McCutcheon and GCH Racing. They spent the pre-start battling along the Westhaven seawall and matching each other move for move with McCutcheon squeezing Corbett close to the marina wall. However, Corbett was able to gain the upper hand by the end of leg 3 and could run away on the final downwind leg to keep McCutcheon at bay after a few minor mistakes left McCutcheon and his crew frustrated.

The Round Robin match between RNZYS Mastercard Youth Training Programme skippers Maeve White and Braedyn Denney showed off two of the skippers in the ranks of the New Zealand youth sailing scene. Despite Tauranga's Denney and his crew never being able to come together for any trainings over the summer, they had some success in the lighter winds of the mornings of day 1 and 2 and were able to take a win off both Megan Thomson and Maeve White. 

Knots Racing and 2.0 Racing had a very tight round robin 2 in which Egnot-Johnson was able to force Thomson to sail the long way on their second visit to the top mark, which gave his crew enough time to raise their spinnaker and make their getaway downwind on the final leg. 

The talent throughout the 3 days from the semi-finalists as well as the crews of Josh Hyde, Braedyn Denney and Maeve White showed that New Zealand has continued from strength to strength despite a heavily interrupted last few years for regatta schedules - which resulted in the 2021 NZMRC being raced in 2022.

Hyde's crew qualified for the NZMRC after a great performance in the Auckland Match Racing Championships and the Yosemite Sam crew were able to get off to some excellent starts.  However, the team seemed to not quite have the same pace on the upwind legs. The team chemistry and boat pace improved immensely throughout the regatta as an excellent hit-out before they look to the Harken Youth International Match Racing Championships and Youth Match Racing National Championships.

Maeve White and her crew came into the regatta having been unable to get into the boat since a 5th placed finish at the Auckland Match Racing Championship, but were able to learn some great lessons from their fellow crews and plan to take them onboard before Youth Match Racing Nationals. After being able to get in the boat and blowing out the cobwebs, the crew is looking in great shape to take on 2022.

In the semi-finals, Reuben Corbett got the win over the in-form Robbie McCutcheon and Egnot-Johnson had to get past Thomson in two matches that, while won in 3 by the deserving finalists, were much more competitive and close than the scoreboard gave credit for. Robbie McCutcheon's curse of minor mistakes against Corbett continued in their semi-final, with consistently close racing where McCutcheon was able to put himself in winning positions. However, the 2021 Auckland Match Racing Champion couldn't keep his coach Corbett from getting the upper hand. Race Two was especially close after McCutcheon won a penalty in the pre-start and got away to an early lead by a few boat lengths. However, he was reeled in by Corbett by the final turn and beaten by a bow length to the line.

Megan Thomson's 2.0 Racing got off the start line relatively unscathed in the first race and matched KNOTS Racing upwind. However, they quickly found themselves on the wrong side of the shift which meant they got bounced out to the wrong. Race 2 remained tighter with Thomson getting another good start and looking to challenge on the first leg, but didn't have the speed to keep up with Egnot-Johnson on the downwind. Race 3 was unfortunately over before it began as Thomson was just early over the line, resulting in them having to return to the start and giving the KNOTS crew a lead that they never looked like losing to qualify for the finals.

Finals Day was a complete shift from the day before, with crews greeted by grey skies, a northerly and a choppy Waitemata Harbour for the afternoon start after the Auckland Marathon closed roads around the RNZYS. 

The Petit Final was contested between Robbie McCutcheon's GCH Racing and Megan Thomson's 2.0 Racing, with the GCH crew able to hit their best pace in the rougher conditions. The 2.0 crew weren't able to match the pace, which allowed McCutcheon to take home a 3rd place - a great performance of a crew on the rise after their Auckland Championship and a 6th place last year in this regatta last year. The Women's Final followed with Thomson and Maeve White with a best of three race series top to decide the 2021 New Zealand Women's Match Racing Championship. Thomson was able to shake off the petit final and get an early lead over White around the top mark in both races 1 and 2. The 2.0 crew were able to keep White a few boat lengths by they returned to the bottom mark and kept themselves out of reach by sailing a solid race to lift the Leith Mossman Memorial Trophy.

The final series saw two different sailing styles going head to head, with an aggressive Corbett handing out starting lessons to World Number 3 Egnot-Johnson. Egnot-Johnson and his polished Knots Racing team in turn showed their speed, teamwork and tactics around the course to keep the racing even. The first two races in the final were won in the pre-start with Nick Egnot-Johnson and his KNOTS Racing crew able to win a penalty, which ended up being the difference in race 1. Race 2 was Corbett's revenge, where he won a penalty in the pre-start and was able to stretch his lead on the first offset leg to leave the crews tied at 1-1. 

After going 2-2 and lining up for the final race, Corbett once again won the start and had sailed to a small lead by the top mark. Egnot-Johnson's KNOTS Racing took small gains around the course to put themselves in a position to attack on the final run. Coming into the finish it looked to be all over for Egnot Johnson, with Corbett locking his team out to the left of the pin end. But, a bad gybe by Corbett saw the KNOTS Racing team jump on the opportunity and sail into a controlling leeward overlap. In a desperate move Corbett managed to break the overlap and regain control, but in the process pick up a penalty from the umpires. Corbett luffed Egnot Johnson hard on the finish line attempting to the clear the penalty, with both boats now sitting head to wind on the finish line, Egnot Johnson elected to tack to attempt to finish ahead, Corbett followed and cleared his penalty in the process. It looked like Egnot Johnson had misjudged his tack bear away and was going to hit the pin end of the start line. But with the help of the tide KNOTS managed to sneak in and finish inches ahead of Corbett's team, taking the win. A thoroughly stoked KNOTS Racing team shouted in delight and Corbett and his crew were left heartbroken after suffering the same fate in the 2019 final against the same team.

The final race of the regatta was the closest between Corbett and Egnot-Johnson - Photo Credit William Woodworth Egnot-Johnson and KNOTS Racing were able to go one better after a 2nd place finish last year, and have got off to the best possible start with a victory in the 2021 Harken New Zealand Match Racing Championship. They have an invitation for this year's Congressional Cup to look forward to in April - their 2nd invitation after their 2019 campaign - and benefitted hugely from having such a tight regatta to kick off a big 2022 for the team. Although the regatta had was forced to reschedule which meant only 7 teams could take part, the racing standard was still excellent all weekend with every sailor loving the opportunity to get back on the water after the New Zealand summer break and back into some top-tier match racing action.

The Harken New Zealand Match Racing Championship couldn't have happened without the support of all of the umpires and volunteers that helped pull off an excellent 2021 edition. The race committee led by Brian Trubovich kept the racing flowing for all 3 days despite the Sunday time constraints, and we'd also like to thank all of the sailors for putting on an incredible display of match racing in great spirit. We look forward to the 2022 edition, and hope to see more crews join us on the Waitemata Harbour later this year!

Results

1st - Nick Egnot-Johnson 2nd - Reuben Corbett 3rd - Robbie McCutcheon 4th - Megan Thomson 5th - Josh Hyde 6th - Braedyn Denney 7th - Maeve White

View images from all four days of racing on the RNZYS Facebook Page RNZYS Facebook: www.facebook.com/RNZYS/ RNZYS Instagram: @rnzys

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