Third Time’s the Charm for Thurston at the NZ Open Keelboat Championships

 In Major Regattas, Member Interest, News

After 2 close-run attempts at winning a New Zealand Open Keelboat Championship final, former Team New Zealand sailor Harry Thurston and his crew of Sam Barnett, Thomas Bentham, Thomas Olds, Mathew Kempkers and Taylor Balogh were finally able to take the title home this year.

“It was very cool to bring the title home after three attempts”, said Thurston. “After that final race the boys were fizzing and the celebrations were on!”

“A big thanks to my crew, those guys were on fire all weekend. It was great to be able to just drive the boat and not worry about tactics, boat handling or trim!”

Thurston’s 3rd attempt at the Open didn’t come easily, with crew issues meaning that he was only able to confirm his team on the Thursday night beforehand. “Sam and Mathew signed up on Thursday and were a key part, as was everyone on the crew!” said Harry. ”I have sailed with Oldsie, Mousie and Taylor before and everyone worked so well together, I really could not have asked for a better bunch of blokes to sail with!”.

Harry Thurston and his team at the New Zealand Open Keelboat Championships prizegiving – RNZYS

Fleet racing always throws up some interesting starts with limited space on the line – especially in the light breezes over the weekend’s sailing which meant positioning off the line was crucial.

Race two saw Thurston get tangled up on the start boat’s end of the start line, but his crew dug in deep and found their way back to the top of the field by the finish. “Getting a double penalty off the start line and being about 400m behind the fleet in 5 knots was a bit scary but we battled back to second in that race which was a big comeback!”

With Thurston and 2022 Women’s Keelboat National Champion Sally Garrett tied on 4 points after day 1 with two victories and a second place each, and a light forecast set for Sunday’s racing, the New Zealand Open Keelboat Championships came down to the ability of the race management team. They were luckily able to find enough of a breeze to get the crucial fifth race underway, which meant enough races took place to crown this year’s champion. 

Tight battle off the start line for Race 3 – William Woodworth/RNZYS

“I was monitoring other race committees from other clubs on the VHF and talking to Celia Carson who was running an event at Wakatere so became aware of a light northerly coming down the coast which had possibilities for sailing”, said Race Officer Colin Lucas. 

“We moved the committee boat from off Kohimarama to the rough rock area and were able to set a short but usable northerly course. As sort of predicted/guessed, the wind came in and we were able to get the only race of the day – unhappily the wind died as the race progressed meaning only 3 boats were able to finish within the race’s cut off time.  On the plus side, this meant we had a regatta and a result was we needed 5 races for a series.”

“Getting the race underway was OK but waiting for the boats to finish and debating whether to shorten the course made that race rather stressful”, comments Lucas.

Thurston (1997) on the final leg ahead of Leslie Egnot, Matt Cole and Maria Ferrario – William Woodworth/RNZYS

Sunday’s race also caused a lot of pressure aboard Thurston’s yacht, with the competitors understanding it was more than likely the deciding race between themselves and Garrett. “Stressful race that Sunday race! We just wanted the left and had a beauty start and took Sally out in the process which was helpful as we needed to beat her team in that race.” 

With the breeze dying out during the race, and only 3 of the 8 boats able to complete the course under the time limit, the race committee was unable to find enough breeze to start another race which left Thurston to take home the title to Akaroa.

This year’s New Zealand Open saw an incredible turnout from the women’s crews, with 4 of the 8 teams being all-female outfits and 2nd, 3rd and 4th place being taken out by Sally Garrett, Leslie Egnot and Megan Thomson respectively. 

“Seeing all the women’s crews out there was so good!” says Thurston. “They were all really strong crews, and it was really cool to see them out there enjoying themselves and hope we can see more all-female crews getting together like that and competing in other regattas”.

Mixed events like the Open really make clear the impact that women have on the sport of sailing, with 4 all-female crews and with women across more of the crews, alongside 3 female race committee members and a mark boat driver throughout the regatta.

In fact, Race Officer Lucas said “Some of the women were asking where all the men were – a great question that I couldn’t answer”

The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron would like to give a massive thanks to all the competitors, the race committee and volunteers, and the few spectators that joined us on the water for the regatta. With the 2022 edition showing off the depth of sailing talent that New Zealand has, we look forward to the 2023 Open where we will hopefully see more teams, more breeze, and plenty more competitive sailing.


1st – Harry Thurston

2nd – Sally Garrett

3rd – Leslie Egnot

4th – Megan Thompson

5th – Matt Cole

6th – Brad Salthouse

7th – Peter Sumich

8th – Maria Ferrario

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