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Blakey knows where loyalties lie in eSailing champs

by Yachting New Zealand 8 Jun 19:40 NZST
Matt Blakey competing with a New Zealand-flagged boat at the 2017 World Masters Games in Auckland. © Yachting New Zealand

Matt Blakey doesn't think he has any split loyalties, even though he was born and raised in New Zealand but will be representing Australia in Sunday night's Zhik Trans-Tasman eSailing Championships.

The 41-year-old will be one of six of the best eSailors in Australia taking on their Kiwi counterparts on Sunday night (8pm NZ time). The overall winner will receive a $500 Zhik voucher, with $300 for second and $200 for third but the top five net scores from each country will determine the best eSailing nation in Australasia.

Blakey is likely to have his boat and sails decked out in Australian livery but has his own motivations when racing gets under way.

"I’m not torn at all," Blakey joked in an interview with commentator Jesse Tuke as he was wearing an All Blacks shirt. "I’m going out to win for Matt. I want that voucher. I need some warmer gear. It’s bloody cold to go sailing over here [in Melbourne] so that voucher would come in really handy for me and it might justify to my wife why I spend so much time on the game.

"It’s interesting to hear the New Zealanders are having some practices. There’s no love lost over here. It’s mate against mate, state against state. No one is sailing with anyone. We’re a team of champions probably racing a champion team so it could be a little bit messy."

That's what New Zealand's Chris Salmon will be hoping. Salmon finished second behind James Bichener in last Sunday's final of the Zhik New Zealand eSailing Challenge and will take a different approach to Blakey this weekend.

"It’s definitely the country," Salmon said when asked what was more important. "The vouchers are nice if they come your way but that’s not really that important. This is New Zealand versus Australia, or should I say New Zealand versus an Aussie-ish team so the vouchers are not important to me at all."

Blakey is a former New Zealand Laser champion (2001) and attempted to win Olympic selection for New Zealand in the class before relocating to Australia about a decade ago. He first raced under the Australian flag a couple of years ago at the eSailing world championships when he admits his mum "shed a tear when she found out" which country he was racing for.

Both Blakely and Salmon have plenty of experience and pedigree in eSailing. Blakey was seventh in the 2018 eSailing world championships and 10th the following year and Salmon was ranked as high as No 11 in the world last year.

They've often tangled on Virtual Regatta and bring the average age up in their respective teams this weekend. The New Zealand team, in particular, is flush with youngsters including 11-year-old Tom Pilkington and 13-year-old Emil Rooseboom.

It's a reflection of the fact eSailors of any age and regular sailing experience can play - Salmon experienced his first race in a real boat last week.

Two drops will come into play during the six races, which gives players who might drop out due to internet issues a little more breathing room. It could also influence how sailors attack certain races at various stages.

"If you bank a couple of good results early you can take risks while other members of the team might be more conservative if they have a rough start," said Blakey, who isn't afraid to take the occasional race penalty.

"Sometimes it’s the lesser of two evils [taking a penalty] because you’re probably going to get penalised anyway so you take your medicine and stick your boat in there anyway. Unlike in real life, you don’t have to spend a week in the shed epoxying things back together and buying someone drinks to apologise for it so it does have that benefit. You can be a bit more kamikaze at times."

You can catch a live stream of the Zhik Trans-Tasman eSailing Championships on the Yachting New Zeaand Facebook page (8pm NZT) and Australian Sailing Facebook page (6pm AEST). Jesse Tuke and Lisa Damanin will provide commentary.

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