Toppling a match racing giant

Published on May 2nd, 2023

While the spotlight at the Congressional Cup (April 18-22) was intently focused on the final match between eventual winner Chris Poole (USA) and Jeppe Borch (DEN), the fight for third also had significance in Long Beach, CA.

It is not often that, for the opening event of the 2023 World Match Racing Tour, the Petit Final would have the reigning Match Racing World Champion – Nick Egnot-Johnson (NZL) – competing against the most successful skipper in the history of the World Match Racing Tour – Ian Williams (GBR).

The 24-year-old Kiwi and his Knots Racing team shut out the Brit 2-0 to claim third place, defeating someone Ehnot-Johnson had looked up to while cutting his match-racing teeth – and who he had lost to in his two previous Congressional Cup appearances.

“We had all basically learned to match race off this guy. We’ve watched his videos all over YouTube, watched him beating so many different people and dominating the World Tour for years,” Egnot-Johnson said.

“To then come up against him and get the win was pretty cool.”

Despite Williams’ reputation, earned from five Congressional Cup and the six World Championship titles, the Kiwi team – with crew Alex Higby, Bradley Mclaughlin, Sam Barnett, Alastair Gifford, and Zak Merton – liked their chances.

“He beat us in our first two Congressional Cups (2019 and 2022) but we definitely thought we could do it this time as we had beaten him in the first round-robin race and only lost the second when we made a small mistake on the second beat,” Egnot-Johnson said.

“We felt like we were sailing really well and we knew we just had to ignore the Williams name tag on his sail. We decided to pretend he was someone else and not let his name make us nervous.”

The Knots Racing crew announced themselves as a rising force on the scene when they narrowly missed out on the semifinals at the 2019 Cup: “We had a really good one that first year, a bit of beginner’s luck ending up fifth, but last year we had a shocker and we were ninth out of the ten teams.”

What makes their success at this year’s event even sweeter is their financial disadvantage.

“We still don’t have a sponsor for our team and we all have full-time jobs to pay for everything out of our own pockets. The top four teams on tour have everything paid for and they can go over to events early and train on the boats beforehand. It definitely makes things trickier for us, but we work with it.”

The team was hastily assembled ahead of a Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron-run trial for the match racing youth world championships in 2018. They decided to “stick with it” after winning the trial and “going OK” at the worlds,” Egnot-Johnson explained.

The podium finish in California is a career highlight “right up alongside” his team’s victory at the WMRT finals in Sydney in December – but it hasn’t changed much in practical terms.

“Basically, it’s put us in a good position to get an entry for the next event (GKSS Match Cup Sweden), which is the next step to our big goal of winning the world championships,” he said.

“But ultimately, we do it because we love match racing and to get a good result every now and then – like at the Congressional Cup – is a nice little bonus. It’s our passion and we’d like to think we’re pretty handy at it.”

Congressional Cup informationResultsFacebook

The Congressional Cup on April 18-22 was the opening event of the 2023 World Match Racing Tour.

Founded in 2000, the World Match Racing Tour (WMRT) promotes the sport of match racing around the world and is the longest running global professional series in the sport of sailing.

The WMRT is awarded ‘Special Event’ status by the sport’s world governing body – World Sailing – and the winner of the WMRT each year is crowned World Sailing Match Racing World Champion.

Previous champions include Sir Ben Ainslie (GBR), Taylor Canfield (USA), Peter Gilmour (AUS), Magnus Holmberg (SWE), Peter Holmberg (ISV), Adam Minoprio (NZL), Torvar Mirsky (AUS), Bertrand Pace (FRA), Jesper Radich (DEN), Phil Robertson (NZL) and Ian Williams (GBR).

Since 2000, the World Match Racing Tour and its events have awarded over USD23million in prize money to sailors which has helped to contribute to the career pathway of many of today’s professional sailors.

Source: YNZL

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