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Four America's Cup champions turn their hand to coaching Harken School Keelboat competitors

by William Woodworth/RNZYS 8 Apr 11:04 NZST
Russell Coutts giving his victorious Kristin School crew a rundown after Race 4, Day 1 of the Harken National Secondary Schools Keelboat Championships © William Woodworth/RNZYS

Dean Barker, Russell Coutts, Joey Allen and Matt Mason have all been a part of memorable sailing moments in history as part of the America’s Cup and beyond.

However instead of tense, high-speed duels in yachts broadcast to millions around the world, the four world-class sailors are passing their knowledge down to the next generation of sailors at this weekend’s Harken National Secondary Schools Keelboat Championships.

Barker is lending a helping hand to Diocesan School’s sailing program where his daughter representing the school this weekend, Mason is coaching the Takapuna Grammar crew with his son aboard, and the team of Coutts and Allen have helped the Kristin School team find their way into pole position after their Day 1 Qualification racing today on the Waitemata Harbour

The for America’s Cup winning sailors were out on the water throughout Friday as the first round of qualification racing took place, also including crews from Westlake Boys High School, Whangarei Boys High School, Sacred Heart College, Kings College and Michael Park School.

“There’s no real expectations for the girls this weekend, as we’re just trying to increase the depth of the sailing team at Dio – they have 50 girls from Year 7 to 13 which is just fantastic”, says Barker. “Their first time in a keelboat was on Wednesday, and they’ve all had to make the transition from single or double handed boats into the Elliott 7”.

The Harken National Secondary Schools Keelboat Championships are the first taste for many high school sailors moving into larger boats, with Coutts and Allen’s Kristin School team being made up of sailors with similar experiences. A record 20 crews are competing for this year’s title, which the onlooking sailing royalty couldn’t be happier with.

“We’ve had a couple of good nights of training and we’re surprised how well the team have actually gone to be brutally honest” says Coutts. “We really have just thrown this team together at the last minute, but it’s been an awesome experience watching individual sailors become a team so quickly”.

The Kristin School crew showed just how well they have gelled together, ending the day as the top ranked crew with three wins from six races over last year’s champions Westlake Boys High Green and runners up Westlake Boys High Red. The chasing field couldn’t have been closer, with 3rd to 6th only separated by 4 points and the 5th and 6th teams – Takapuna Grammar Yellow and Whangarei Boys – tied on points. The Diocesan White and Red teams, under Barker’s watch, had a tough day on the water with a few technical difficulties. However, the two Diocesan crews are here as a learning experience to deepen the skill sets of the competitors and expose them to more sailing opportunities.

“The girls are having to be adaptable as sailors, so entering this competition with a new kind of sailing for them improves their overall sailing across all classes – the girls have the numbers and the enthusiasm, but competitions like this weekend are immensely handy to help develop the talent pool”.

Coutts couldn’t agree more – “the Kristin crew are used to single and double-handed sailing, and normally sail 420 classes, moth’s, windfoil’s et cetera. At the moment there’s a little bit of everything across the team, so this weekend is all about finding their expertise aboard a bigger boat and bringing it all together as a five person crew”.

After last weekend’s Auckland Team Sailing Championships, high school sailors have had a busy few weeks on the water – balancing training for both the double-handed 420 class that Team Sailing regattas used last weekend and for the National Secondary Schools Team Sailing Championships sailed in later in April, as well as learning how to sail a 5-person Elliott 7 keelboat for the Harken National Secondary Schools Keelboat Championships.

With 10 new teams taking to the water for their qualification day tomorrow, and a jam-packed Finals Day on Sunday, this weekend is an incredibly important stepping stone for young sailors to make their first step into larger yachts. The competitive juices are still flowing for the four America’s Cup winning coaches, however as Barker sums up, “it’s also just cool to come out and watch our kids compete like we did, and by being out here we hope we can have a hand in continuing to develop New Zealand sailing.”

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