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O'pen Skiffs: Italian job: How Russell Coutts inspired young Kiwi to world title

by Eduan Roos/Yachting NZ 31 Jul 2023 18:05 PDT 1 August 2023
O'pen Skiff World Championship at Rimini - U15 Podium © Elena Giolai / OpenSkiff Italia

A timely message from a sailing great helped catapult young Kiwi O’pen Skiff sailor Ewan Brazle to the world title in Italy, after faulty equipment and foreign conditions had earlier threatened to see victory slipping from his grasp.

The 13-year-old took out the under-15 division at the 2023 world championships in Rimini a fortnight ago after an impressive fightback – securing the crown with victory in the last of his 14 races.

Brazle is one of a group of talented New Zealand competitors in the growing class and beat more than 160 other competitors to continue his impressive run of results in the boat he only started sailing three years ago when his family – originally from the US – visited New Zealand on a “surfing holiday” and decided to stay.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I was just stoked to represent New Zealand at the worlds, and I feel really fortunate to have such a great group of teammates and support back home,” Ewan said.

“After the last race, we all jumped off our boats and swam over to each other!”

It was a celebration born out of relief as much as joy, he admits.

The young Manly Sailing Club sailor was one of the favourites coming into the championships, after winning a major ranking regatta in Cagliari only days before the start of the world championships.

Top-10 results in Brazle’s first three races were followed by a string of inconsistent scores in extreme heat, light air, and heavy chop.

He also suffered equipment failure that was only discovered after scores of 23, 61 and 82 on day three of the regatta.

“The regatta definitely did not go as expected but even though my results weren't what I’d hoped they’d be after the first few days, I knew I could improve.

“I was excited to get back on the water each day, but it wasn’t until I crossed the finish line in first place in the final race that I thought I had probably done enough to win.”

An inspirational message from America’s Cup great and SailGP founder Russell Coutts helped turn around his fortunes, Ewan’s dad Joel revealed.

“Russell shared experiences about top teams and athletes that have faced challenges, some seeming insurmountable at the time. He talked about how these teams and athletes were able to learn from the past, put it behind them, and then focus on what’s next,” Joel Brazle said.

“It was a seminal moment in the regatta which I think really helped Ewan move forward. He has always shown resilience after bad races but to see him finish like he did with a bullet in race 14 was remarkable.”

Ewan Brazle’s wasn’t the only Kiwi success in Rimini, with teammates Hugo Smith and Orlando Botha finishing ninth and 31st respectively in the same category.

Oliver Tiedemann narrowly missed out on a podium spot in the under-12 division, finishing one point off the bronze-medal position, while Storm Douwes ended 39th overall in the under-17s.

Coutts has been a key figure throughout the group’s preparation for the event, which started just over a year ago at the 2022 world championships in Maubuisson, France.

“Russell has been very involved in the New Zealand O’pen Skiff team from the initial planning stages,” said Joel, who is also the president of the NZ O’pen Skiff class association.

“We had three sailors in 2022 and we knew we wanted to come back with a bigger team so more kids could have this incredible experience.”

y Sir Russell Coutts has played a key part in the Kiwis' international success in the O'pen Skiff class.

Coutts hosted a five-day training camp at Lake Garda, and spent five more days with the team in Rimini – whether "delivering master classes in big-fleet strategy” or simply “taking the kids out for gelato”.

“He committed a great deal of time and energy to these kids. They are better sailors because of him but more importantly, he’s helped them gain confidence and build character that will certainly help them in their lives outside of sailing.”

Ewan agrees.

“Our experience in Italy was really great and I would definitely do it again. It was worth it just from the standpoint of all the new friends I made. Also, I loved being there with my teammates and Russell,” he said.

“It’s hard to explain how much it means to have him out there with us. He takes the time and effort to help each one of us improve and he’s really fun to have on the water.”

The Brazles are catching up with friends and family in the States before returning to New Zealand in time for the start of the new season.

“We have our O’pen Skiff season-opener at Kai Iwi Lakes at the start of the school holidays in September,” said Joel Brazle.

“It’s designed to be a family friendly event with camping onsite and we have a great team of coaches to promote the development of kids new to racing.”

The regatta will have an international flavour with at least one of the more than 30 expected entries coming from Australia.

“We’re really excited for the upcoming regatta season. It’s a great opportunity to build on the momentum we have with the O’pen Skiff class."

Results and standings from the 2023 O’pen Skiff world championships at Club Nautico Rimini, Italy:

Under-12 fleet (55 boats)

1st: Sviatoslav Yasnolobov (Ukr) (2) 2 2 1 1 1 (7) 1 1 2 2 1 1 1 - 16 points 2nd: Jan Waskiewicz (Pol) 4 (UFD) 11 18 (43) 5 2 2 7 4 4 12 7 4 - 80 pts 3rd: Fabio Serra (Ita) 1 (UFD) 6 5 4 3 6 (25) 15 3 9 3 4 24 - 83 pts 4th: Oliver Tiedemann (NZ) 3 5 5 6 (27) 11 1 13 18 6 (BFD) 10 3 3 - 84 pts

Under-15 fleet (164 boats)

1st: Ewan Brazle (NZ) 2 5 9 12 (17) 4 23* 61* 82* (4) 3 4 3 1 - 52 pts 2nd: Pepe García (Esp) (15) 2 6 5 4 2 13 1 16 1 2 13 4 (BFD) - 69 pts 3rd: Oriol Costabella (Esp) 9 4 1 1 11 (13) 15 (60) 4 6 1 2 9 17 - 80 pts 9th: Hugo Smith (NZ) 13 (39) 7 4 6 6 (39) 20 28 7 12 29 14 2 - 148 pts 31st: Orlando Botha (NZ) 34 24 15 4 21 (46) 40 54 59 (69) 13 31 12 9 - 316 pts 70th: Robert Abel-Pattinson (NZ) 27 45 53 20 (62) 37 29 53 (74) 54 47 67 70 35 - 537 pts

Under-17 fleet (64 boats)

1st: Niccolo Giomarelli (Ita) (30) 4 (13) 1 3 1 2 2 11 1 8 5 1 3 - 42 pts 2nd: Moritz Blum (Fra) 1 (11) 4 2 (16) 8 3 3 1 9 10 1 3 11 - 56 pts 3rd: Malte Kreutzer (Ger) (14) 3 2 3 10 6 5 1 2 10 2 (BFD) 11 8 - 63 pts 39th: Storm Douwes (NZ) 19 24 27 40 33 24 40 29 40 (47) 34 44 (52) 36 - 390 pts

Full results here

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