Auckland, New Zealand (February 13, 2018) – Leonard Takahashi and his RNZYS Performance Programme Pacific Racing Team crew of Josh Wijohn, Taylor Balogh, Ibuki Koizumi, and George Lee Rush (above) have taken out the 2018 Nespresso Youth International Match Racing Cup at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.
Skippers were greeted by another rainy Auckland day this morning, which was fitting seeing as the majority of the regatta was sailed in wet weather, but this didn’t stop our four keen semi-finalists from taking to the water.
James Wilson from the RNZYS Youth Training Programme was the top seed heading into the finals so it was his choice on who he would sail against in the Semi-Finals. Wilson selected Finn Tapper from the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, which left Takahashi taking on Jordan Stevenson (RNZYS YTP) in the other semi-final.
Wilson, who came back from being two-nil down in the quarterfinals, found himself in another ding dong battle – this time against Tapper – that saw some extremely tight racing and provided another nervous final that came right down the final match. With the scores tied two each, it was all on in the final match but the local boy Wilson managed to find his form and keep his composure to win and book himself a spot in the grand finale.
“I was pretty worried aye, it was almost a repeat of our quarterfinal,” noted Wilson. “We were doing well in the pre-starts but we kept making mistakes up the course. In the fourth match we could have really finished it off but we didn’t, then the fifth race was really close, there were heaps of penalties and flags flying up and down but we were stoked to get over the line and make the final.”
Tapper, the second seed coming out of the round robin, sailed a very impressive regatta and it could have gone his way in that final match against Wilson but it just wasn’t quite to be.
“It was really close racing and super close, lots of penalties and stuff so it was great racing,” shared Tapper. “That last race we were a bit over aggressive, putting things into the umpires hands instead of just sailing our own race. James [Wilson] sailed well, whenever he seemed like he was out of it he would come back so a big credit to him, he’s sailing really well.”
The second semi-final started in an ominous fashion as Takahashi went up two-nil over his fellow Squadron sailor Stevenson. However, with his back against the wall and one loss away from elimination, Stevenson wasn’t going to roll over that easily – striking back to take the third match to make the score two – one.
The pre-start for the fourth match was a real battle, with both teams pushing each other in the start box in the driving rain, but then the unthinkable happened. Takahashi was pushing hard and with the boats in the shallows and very close to the rocks, Stevenson had nowhere to go, ending up on the rocks off the Westhaven sea-wall. This was the worst possible result for Stevenson who was black flagged and had to be towed off, therefore ending his semi-final campaign and sending Takahashi to the big dance.
“We got a bit unlucky and washed up onto the rocks but you know, these things happen,” said Stevenson. “It’s always a tough match going up against someone like Leonard [Takahashi] but we went in with heads high and hoping for the best. It was pretty tight to be honest, all the races were close and we managed to nick one off him. He was really quick around the course so I think he deserved to go through to the final.”
Takahashi offered his thoughts on the incident that sent him to the final. “It was a marginal one, we dialled up and decided to go bow on starboard and he decided to go bow on port which was really close to the wall and he just ended up sliding into it and kind of gave it away to us. It was really good to race Jordan though, he’s a good upcoming skipper so we were really happy to come out on top in that one.”
With the Semi-finals completed it was Wilson and Takahashi who were ready to race it out in the final, a repeat of the Harken Youth International in Sydney at the end of last year, as well as Tapper taking on Stevenson in the petite final.
Tapper, who has shown a lot of class in Auckland this week, won the petite final two-nil and claimed third place overall in the regatta. The racing, however, was very close but it was a mistake by Stevenson in the second match when he went around the wrong mark that handed the third place spoils to the Australian.
“It was a bit interesting, we sailed the first race well and Jordan had us in a good position in the second but unfortunately he went around the wrong mark so it was a bit anti-climactic, we were a bit lucky there,” said Tapper. “We were disappointed not the make the finals but that’s sailing and we hope to do better next week in Wellington.”
In the grand-final, it was clear to those watching from the side-lines that Takahashi and his team were here to win, especially when they quickly went two-nil up. Wilson was still sailing well but he couldn’t quite catch up to Takahashi who had excellent boat speed, and even when they got penalties they were able to get rid of them without losing their lead.
The third match was a similar story, Takahashi picked up a penalty in the pre-start but raced out to a decent lead, got rid of his penalty and charged down the final leg to win the Nespresso Youth International Match Racing Cup final three-nil.
“Despite the score it was really tight racing, we gave ourselves a few penalties in the starts but good crew work and boat speed from the guys allowed us claw back and get a good enough lead to wipe them out,” reported Takahashi. “I’ve been sailing these boats for about six years now so it feels good to get the win. I’m really happy at how we were able to take this one out, it’s a big one for us and we’re looking forward to Centerport in Wellington this weekend.”
Wilson wasn’t quite as thrilled with his finals performance. “The final was quite tough, we started well and got a few penalties on him [Takahashi] but then our course positioning and upwind speed wasn’t amazing and our tacks weren’t that great so that’s a work on for next time. We will get him eventually.”
This is another big win for Takahashi who is on a rich vein of form at the minute after winning his last four match racing regattas, including the Youth Nationals in Wellington, the Musto and Harken Youth Internationals in Sydney, and can now add the Nespresso Youth International Match Racing Cup to his collection of titles.
Asked whether the team can make it five in a row in the capital, Takahashi was coy not to get too excited. “Hopefully, I mean that’s not the end goal but we’re all here to improve and we just want to go out there and have good racing.”
The racing schedule was from February 10 to 13.
Event details – Results – Facebook
Source: Andrew Delves