Harken Secondary Schools Keelboat National Championships – Westlake Boys High School
After unprecedented success in last year’s Harken National Secondary Schools Keelboat Championship’s with a 1-2 finish, and a production line of some of New Zealand’s biggest names in sailing, Westlake Boys High School is returning with 2 teams to make it 3 wins in 4 years for the North Shore school.
“Obviously a certain amount of pressure comes with our recent results, but I think we’re approaching the regatta the same way we would any other year” says George Lee Rush and Mason Mulcahy, Westlake’s senior sailing leaders. “We’re there to get the same result, so our mindset is relatively unchanged”.
With 4 of last year’s victorious crew returning for the opportunity to repeat their 2021 performance, Rush and Mulcahy are excited to see how the new crew combinations perform.
“We’ve actually only had a few members from last year’s teams graduating – the champion Westlake Green crew has remained almost identical to last year’s team with only one member leaving, whereas Westlake Red has experienced bigger changes”.
Much of Westlake’s sailing experience has come in single or double-handed dinghy’s, and almost all of the team’s experience sailing keelboats has been as part of the Harken National Secondary Schools Keelboat Championships.
“It’s a completely different kettle of fish working with five people, and communication can sometimes be difficult” says Rush and Mulcahy. “The biggest challenge the team has had to overcome is that the Elliott 7 is not the boat that we all primarily sail – as a team we have had to learn together how to sail the keelboat, which has provided us with a large number of new skills and large amounts of experience”.
With the school year only just having started and the busy sailing schedules of the team members, the Westlake teams have only recently been able to train as a team. However, Rush, Mulcahy and their Westlake Green crew were able to get out on the water. “After spending some time shaking off the rust, we felt like we were back to our previous form relatively quickly”, says the team. “We are all very good friends meaning we gel well together.
In the leadup to the regatta, the Westlake teams see a need to practice our manoeuvres under pressure so that they are well prepared for regatta situations. “We are used to normally sailing individually or with a partner, so it is crucial that we get used to the 5-man team dynamic by training pre-regatta”.
With famous sailing names like Dean Barker, Hamish Pepper and Chris Dickson having come from Westlake, and many promising youth sailors currently on the rise in New Zealand sailing, Westlake Boys High School has a perfect storm of factors that pumps out excellent sailors.
“The fact that Westlake is close to the Hauraki Gulf and situated on the North Shore is what attracts so many good sailors – A lot of sailors live in or around this area, so it makes it the ideal school for many”, says Mulcahy and Rush.
“The sailing programme at Westlake provides the students with a range of skills not only for their sailing, but also teamwork and self-management skills – we compete in 3 main categories, fleet racing, team racing and keelboat racing, so students gain knowledge in all 3 disciplines making them a better sailor overall”.
“School sports are incredibly important in New Zealand because they develop students within their sports, allow them to branch out and try other types of sport, and creates regular competition” says George and Mason. “They play a large role in the development of students in their High School years, give students a purpose and provides experiences that they will never forget”.
Each of the sailors has their individual goals for the Harken National Secondary Schools Keelboat Championship, but the Westlake teams are “focused on repeating the 1-2 result we achieved last year”. However, Mulcahy and Rush know they will have targets on their back, so their ultimate goal is to “perform to the best of our ability while enjoying the regatta”.
“Our sailors plan to learn as much as possible in order to improve their overall sailing knowledge” says Rush and Mulcahy. “We want to represent Westlake well both through our sailing, and through how we present ourselves”.