Stevenson Finally Conquers California to Continue RNZYS Successes at Governor’s Cup
3 years after his first attempt, New Zealand skipper Jordan Stevenson and his Vento Racing crew of Mitch Jackson and George Angus, representing The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, have won the 2022 Governor’s Cup International Youth Match Racing Championship; with an enthralling victory over newly crowned Youth World Match Racing champion and hometown favourite Jeffrey Petersen sailed out of Balboa Yacht Club, Los Angeles, California.
“Winning the Governor’s Cup is huge for us – it’s one of the most prestigious youth match racing events in the world and is something that’s been on the bucket list since we started sailing together”, said an elated Stevenson
The Governor’s Cup International Youth Match Racing Championship annually invites the premier under-23 match racing teams from around the world; however New Zealand crews have been unable to attend the regatta since the 2019 Governor’s Cup where his fellow RNZYS Performance Programme crews of Nick Egnot-Johnson and Leonard Takahashi completed an unprecedented 1-2 finish – with Jordan and Vento Racing finishing 5th.
“It has been pretty tough watching everyone have a crack at the Cup and the Youth World Match Racing Championship in Balboa back in 2021, so it feels awesome to come back, do some racing and especially win the Governor’s before we age out”.
However this year’s victory was far from smooth sailing for Stevenson, Jackson and Angus, as the team had not had many sailing opportunities before embarking on the Governor’s Cup campaign due to COVID restrictions. Outside of their home training and sailing schedule, and as recent graduates of the RNZYS’s Mastercard Performance Programme and Youth Training Programme, the only international opportunity the team had was George Angus’s trip to the World Youth Match Racing Championship the week before in France.
Angus sailed aboard the Irish entry which – alongside the New Zealand team and fellow Governor’s Cup crew of skipper Robbie McCutcheon, 2022 WASZP World Champion Sam Street and Chester Duffett – was made up of RNZYS youth sailors.
“It was pretty tough on the old bodies coming in cold, we definitely had to work hard in to get back to the level we were racing at in 2019”, reflected Jordan on his last Governor’s Cup campaign.
To start this year’s campaign, Stevenson’s crew had to battle their way out of a very tight field of competitors after Round Robin 1 of racing with 8 of the 12 crews within one win of each other at the end of Day 1. Long-time Governor’s Cup Selection Committee member and former winner Andy Rose said that he believed this field to be the most evenly matched in Governor’s Cup history, and had his point proven after Round Robin 1 with a world-class field of 12 from 5 different countries.
After finishing Day 2 of round robin as one of the in-form boats, the RNZYS crew pulled off an unbeaten Day 3 which helped the Kiwis storm up the leader board and secure the 2nd seed going in to the best-of-5 semi-final’s.
“After the first day we had a big debrief and adjusted our game plan to better fit the boats and conditions. From then onwards we started to get back into our rhythm and didn’t look back”, said Stevenson. “Composure and consistency were our most important strengths this week. We never put any pressure on ourselves and approached each race with a learning mindset.”
The RNZYS crew’s composure and consistency was tested heavily in the semi-finals, as they found themselves at 2-1 down to San Diego Yacht Club’s Jack Egan who thrived in the windier Day 3 and 4 conditions with a heavier crew. In what Chief Umpire Flavio Naveira described as the “best move I’ve ever seen in all the years I’ve been an umpire” however, Stevenson trapped Egan’s yacht beside the Race Committee boat on the finish line which gave him and the crew time to do a penalty turn and cross the finish to send the semi-final to a second day down 2-1. The conditions were much kinder to Stevenson on Day 5, as with the lighter crew in the lighter air he was able to take out both remaining races and qualify for the final.
“Our semi-final definitely wasn’t easy” reflected Jordan. “The racing on Friday was especially hard as it was quite windy and we were very far below the weight limit. We also knew the final wasn’t going to be easy, especially racing a team like Jeffrey’s – our approach was to make sure we prepared for each race the same as we had done all week and maintain as much consistency as possible”.
Stevenson’s and the Kiwi crew’s accuracy and prowess in the lighter breeze carried over as he won both race 1 and 2 over Petersen with control of the starts, and excellent upwind and downwind speed as he pulled out some of the most textbook match race sailing the gathered crowd had seen all regatta. However, with the comfortable 2-0 lead and plenty of boat speed advantages over Petersen, the Kiwi’s succumbed to classic cases of commentator’s curse.
As they were on the home stretch to take out race 3 and the title, the Race Committee decided to offset the gate – however the gate wasn’t set in time before the competitors arrived. Stevenson rounded the mark clockwise, however Petersen rounded it incorrectly anti-clockwise and once he realized his mistake, he returned to round again. However, he did not “unwind the string” of his first incorrect rounding and therefore had still not rounded the mark, and Stevenson was all but guaranteed the title. Petersen raised a red protest flag, and after what must have been a discussion between Principal Race Officer Dr. Don Becker and the umpires, it was signalled that all races in progress were abandoned.
Then as Stevenson pulled away in the re-started Race 3, Tom Ehman and Tom Spithill, along with former winners Andy Rose, Christophe Killian, and Matt Whitfield, thought Stevenson had the title sealed up in a sweep – until the Kiwi boat slowed noticeably down while ahead and opened the door for Petersen to bring the deficit back to 2-1. After further inspection, the RNZYS crew had picked up 40 kilograms of kelp which had got stuck on their keel with the home waters handing Petersen a way back into the final.
After a very testing Race 3 for the crew, spectators had every right to think Stevenson was rattled by the two close calls as he was shepherded over the start line before the race began by Petersen, and was given a 2nd penalty for an intentional foul for getting in Petersen’s way. The RNZYS crew then was able to catch the locals and found themselves with open water on the final leg, but with a penalty turn still hanging over their head.
As they reached the finish leading Stevenson made an excellent tack and gybe as a fast-finishing Petersen closed the gap. The crew’s, spectators and those tuning in from around the world had to wait as the Race Committee reviewed the finish – before announcing Stevenson had won the Governor’s Cup 3-1 by less than a meter.
Stevenson, Jackson and Angus couldn’t have been happier, as they tackled each other into the Pacific and were ecstatically applauded by the large flotilla of gathered spectator boats, including fellow RNZYS crew McCutcheon, Street and Duffett who finished 11th at their first of hopefully a few more attempts at the Governor’s Cup as part of their packed 2022 Northern Hemisphere schedule.
“Seeing the yellow flag go up as we crossed the finish line in the last race was awesome. The race was extremely close so it was such a relief to finally close out the series,” said Stevenson. “I think we always knew we were in with a chance to take out the title, as we took the races one at time and focused on constantly adjusting/improving throughout the week”.
After so much time off from competing in international regatta’s, Stevenson, Jackson and Angus couldn’t have shown any more of the fighting spirit and determination of New Zealand sailors that carried them to the 2022 Governor’s Cup victory – and despite aging out of the youth sailing categories and entering the Open category, Stevenson says they’re not quite done.
“We’re heading back to Auckland where we’ll stay for the next while and get back into the grind – we’re not sure what’s next for Vento but our campaign definitely isn’t over yet”.
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