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Two RNZYS crews set to compete in the "Pathway of Champions" Governor's Cup in California

by Billy Woodworth/RNZYS 7 Jul 17:32 PDT 8 July 2022
McCutcheon leading fellow Governor's Cup skipper Finn Tapper (CYCA) in the 2022 Harken Youth International Match Racing Championship © William Woodworth

The Governor’s Cup International Youth Match Racing Championship held out of the Balboa Yacht Club in Newport Beach, California is the one of the oldest and most prestigious youth match racing regatta’s in the world – and this year’s field contains two ready and eager Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron crews.

Skippers Jordan Stevenson and Robbie McCutcheon will be taking on 12 other under-23 teams from the USA, Australia, Sweden and the United Kingdom in five days of world-class match racing from 25th to the 30th of July.

Their return to the Governor’s Cup is significant with the regatta described as the “Pathway of Champions” for many famous sailors. This year is also the first time New Zealanders have been able to compete since the RNZYS crews of Nick Egnot-Johnson and Leonard Takahashi finished 1st and 2nd in 2019.

2019 US Grand Slam Series winner Stevenson and his Vento Racing crew of Mitch Jackson and George Angus are returning for their second attempt at the Governor’s Cup after his 5th placed 2019. Stevenson won the open age Grand Slam at 20 years old and is aiming to win the under-23 Governor’s Cup on his 2nd attempt. He was also invited to the 2020 Governor’s Cup, however the regatta was cancelled due to COVID, so is eager to return.

“We are excited to try and build on our previous result, especially after having to wait two years since our last visit in 2019”, says Stevenson.

“The opportunity to travel overseas again to sail is really exciting – it’s a huge motivator for the team to be able to compete against a variety of sailors from around the world and we’re eager see if we are still as competitive as we were before COVID.”

They are joined by Robbie McCutcheon and his GCH Racing crew of Sam Street and Chester Duffett, who are part of the Governor’s Cup field for the first time. Their Governor’s Cup week campaign is part of a busy month on the water and across the world for the team – fitting between representing New Zealand at the 2022 Youth Match Racing World Championship in France and joining the 4 regatta’s of the 2022 US Grand Slam Series. McCutcheon will also attempt to continue a streak of 3 straight Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron victories at the Grand Slam Series stretching back to 2018 – including Stevenson’s victory in 2019.

“We’ve got a big month and a half overseas for the team, but we are really excited to have the opportunity to show what we can do on the world stage”, said McCutcheon.

“It feels amazing to be selected for the Governor’s Cup, the regatta has so much heritage and prestige behind it and a lot of great New Zealand sailors have participated in the Governor’s Cup regatta so we are really excited for the opportunity”

Alongside the unprecedented 1-2 finish in 2019, New Zealander’s have had great successes in the Governor’s Cup. 3 time Volvo Ocean Race winner Mark Christensen was the first non-American to win the Cup, and many great New Zealand sailors having competed like current Canada Sail GP skipper Phil Robertson and World Match Racing Tour skipper and America’s Cup commentator Chris Steele.

However, Jordan and Robbie are aiming to make this year’s Governor’s Cup regatta a re-announcement of New Zealand to the sailing world, and to follow in the successes of their predecessors by using the regatta as a stepping stone to the world stage.

“Going in with the RNZYS’s 2019 track record definitely puts a bit more pressure on the team to try and train hard to get the same result. As a team we are obviously going over with the goal of winning, which is definitely possible if we put the work in” said Stevenson.

“As a team we are hoping to keep sailing in match racing regattas around the world and any other sailing we can get our hands on – we are still trying to figure out what other regattas to compete in”.

As part of his team’s leadup, Stevenson’s crewmate George Angus will represent Ireland with another RNZYS crew of Maeve White, Max McLachlan, Jack Manning and brother Henry against the New Zealand crew of McCutcheon, Street, Duffett, Sofia Higgott and Jack Frewin at the Youth Match Racing World Championships the week before. However, having a hectic month and a half on the water ahead doesn’t faze McCutcheon.

“As competitors, we always have the best intentions and expectations when we enter these regattas. With such a great history of New Zealand sailors doing well at the Governor’s Cup, we have great confidence that we can be a part of continuing this success.”

Despite it being his first Cup, McCutcheon has plenty of experience in high-profile regattas to lean upon from his career as a youth dinghy sailor. “Being forced to be away from international events for two years has brought upon its challenges, and to finally be able to compete against the world’s best again is an opportunity that the whole team is very motivated for and excited to prove our ourselves”.

The two skippers have both been doing their best to prepare for the even playing field at the Governor’s Cup, with the competition having a unique Governor’s Cup yacht design to be raced in.

McCutcheon and the GCH Racing team will have to learn to sail new yacht designs a few times in their travels with each regatta in their campaign having their own design. “We’ve been exhausting all of our connections who have sailed the boats in the past to build a playbook so already have knowledge on what we need to do to make the boat go fast and worry about the match racing after that”.

At RNZYS we mainly train in the Elliot 7’s with 4 crew members, while the Gov’s Cup 22s are sailed with only 3 crew members” says Stevenson. “Splitting an extra job between the three of us is definitely going to be the biggest transition, but we are hoping that sailing these boats once before will help with this and the skills will come back to us”.

However the experience of having sailed there before doesn’t make winning the regatta easier, according to Stevenson. “Newport Beach can provide some tricky wind conditions with light airs and choppy seas so our boat speed is something we are definitely going to focus on while training for the event”.

With just a few weeks left before the regatta gets underway and even less before they fly out, the 2 teams have stepped up their training regimens and have regularly been out on the Waitemata Harbour in preparation – and Jordan and Robbie will be after every last advantage as they aim to continue their trip down the “Pathway of Champions”.

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