Strength of Wills wins Family-Friendly Sunburst Nationals

 In Member Interest, News

RNZYS Member Andrew Wills has a storied career in sailing, both on the water across national and international competitions, but his victory was one of the most unexpected at the 2022 Sunburst National Championships held out of Wakatere Boating Club – especially with his youngest son Leo aboard taking part in his first ever regatta.

“Leo and I had absolutely no expectations going into this weekend – we originally signed up so Leo could build his confidence on the water. It would have been neat just to spend a weekend sailing with him but winning a national title in his first attempt must help get him on the water more!”

The Wills family was well represented at the Sunburst Nationals with older son and 2022 Optimist Silver Fleet National Champion Lauchy also taking part. Andrew and Leo were far from the only family combination at the Sunburst Nationals fleet, where 15 family pairings out of 24 boats taking to the water for the weekend – including the top 5 teams and 8 of the top 10.

Andrew and Leo Wills (right) alongside Adam and Henri Crooks and Finn and Hamish Brown – Sailing New Zealand

Andrew does plenty of serious sailing across the classes, winning this year’s Flying Fifteen title, as well as aboard the Melges 40 ‘Sassinate’ and with customers as part of his role at North Sails – “but sailing with my boys is far more fun”.

“It’s so great to have such a super competitive fleet that’s also incredibly family focused – there were some fantastic sailors out there sailing with their families as well, so it brought a great vibe throughout the weekend”.

Andrew and Leo were only able to have one training session on the Thursday before the regatta, but the duo couldn’t get the spinnaker up with Leo being uncertain about doing it for the first time.

After a bit of advice from the Sunburst National’s organizer Bruce Yarnton, who advised Andrew to use a bit of lolly-based bribery for Leo every time the kite went up, they were able to get the spinnaker up for the first time on the downwind leg in race 1 of the weekend and never looked back.

Andrew and Leo’s boat Starblaze however was consistently at the head of the field all weekend, with their 5 podium places and a 4th able to fend off Wakatere’s fast finishing Adam and Henri Crooks, who won 3 races but were cost a chance at the title by a 8th place finish in race 1 of the weekend.

“The highlight of the weekend was being able to have some great yarns with Leo and see him grow in confidence,” said Andrew. “However, we got to a point where we only had a few races left on Sunday and realized ‘we might actually have a shot at winning this thing!’”.

“Our consistency was super important and we really tried to get off to good starts every race and stay at the head of the field – I had to shake off some of the rust early on but we think we led around every mark on Sunday”.

With Leo having only just completed his first Learn to Sail course, moving to the larger Sunburst’s and competing in a National’s was a step up in skill level, but with the assistance of lollies tucked in Andrew’s lifejacket for encouragement and perfect light conditions for the Sunburst fleet, Leo’s confidence and sailing skills only grew throughout the weekend.

“The Sunburst’s are a great family boat to get the kids out on. They’re an ideal size to have for an adult and child crewing, and the New Zealand Sunburst Association and community is fantastic as well”, said Andrew.

“After seeing Lauchy’s successes in the Optimist fleet and with how much fun Leo had over the weekend, I think Leo has been inspired to kick on with his sailing – and I couldn’t be happier for it”.

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