Harken Championship draws international line-up

by Lisa Ratcliff

The countdown is on for the best line-up of shortlisted international teams in many years about to contest the 25th anniversary Harken International Youth Match Racing Championship on Pittwater over November 22-26, 2017.

‘The Harken’, as it’s best-known, is one of only two top-tier Australian youth events that offer prizemoney. The other stipulates the prize be taken as a travel grant whereas Harken Australia offers the winning teams $1000 cold-hard no-strings-attached cash for first place, $750 for second and $250 for third.

Not only is 2017 the regatta’s notable silver anniversary, it also marks 20 continuous years of Harken’s naming rights sponsorship, which is considered a milestone in the sport.

Entry is based on rankings and from 30 team applications The Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club has whittled the number down to the maximum 12 teams. The Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and Royal Perth Yacht Club are fielding an U23 squad as part of a longstanding agreement between the clubs to support each other’s youth programs.

A Japanese team made selection, one of the few times the island nation has been represented in the event’s 24 year history. Called Pacific Racing Team, skipper Leonard Takahashi has a world match racing ranking of 43 reflecting his recent podium finishes at the New Zealand National Championships and 2017 Governor’s Cup. Takahashi also campaigns a 49er skiff.

Top ranked skipper Jelmer Van Beek is representing The Netherlands with his Team Dutch Wave. Currently ranked 42nd in the ISAF Open Match Racing Rankings, the team has been busy contesting various match racing and keelboat events across Europe.

Sarah Parker from the host Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club’s Youth Development program, one of two women skippering the RPAYC’s Elliott 7s, is returning to defend last year’s podium finish. Parker is hungry and match fit having just returned from South Korea’s Busan Cup where she placed eighth against the world’s best female match racers.

The RSYS team features helm Charlotte Griffin, who made her match racing debut at this year’s Marinassess Women’s Match Racing Regatta, and a mix of new and experienced sailors.

Two American yacht clubs, Balboa and the Chicago Yacht Club, plus New Caledonia’s Cercle Nautique Calédonien are sending Harken International debutants.

RPAYC head coach Tom Spithill said: “It’s the best line up in terms of represented countries I’ve seen for a long time and indicates the regatta’s standing among the youth match racing scene that teams would travel from as far away as Chicago and The Netherlands.

“With six of the 12 teams ranked within the world top 150 and four remaining competitors in the top 300, competition for this year’s Rockin’ Robin perpetual trophy will be fierce,” he added.

Very different to fleet racing, match racing is a complicated and super strenuous form of boat-on-boat round robin competition where pairs try to outfox each other and force penalties to gain the advantage, all watched by on-water umpires of the highest calibre with flags and whistles at the ready.

Chief umpire Ben Fels from the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria is one of three international umpires and part of the Harken International 2017’s judging team of eight.

The Harken International Youth Match Racing Championship has served as a launch pad for a number of yachting’s stars including dual America’s Cup winning skipper James Spithill, Michael Dunstan, William Tiller, Chris Steel and Torvar Mirsky, who skippered the triumphant West Australian team at the China Cup final of the World Match Racing Tour last month.

Wednesday November 22 is a dedicated practice day and the competition begins in earnest on Thursday through to Sunday, starting at 1000hrs daily. The long range forecast indicates nor’easters building reliably to 15 knots by the afternoon across the four days.

Harken Australia managing director Grant Pellew says, “We are proud of our involvement over the past 19 years and the fact we are major sponsor for this special anniversary edition. We believe youth sailing is one of the most important forms of our sport and we are heavily committed to supporting it both in Australia and overseas.”

Harken invites all youth sailors to join its free fan club called Harken Blockheads www.harkenblockheads.com which aims to develop content, mostly video, that teaches youth sailors important concepts such as rigging, tuning, maintenance, repair and other race preparation concepts specifically linked to the physical boat.

Teams for the 2017 Harken International Youth Match Racing Regatta:

  • Team Dutch Wave, NED
  • Japanese Sailing Federation – Pacific Racing Team, JPN
  • Balboa Yacht Club – two teams, USA
  • Chicago Yacht Club, USA
  • Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, NZL
  • Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club, NZL
  • The Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club, AUS
  • Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, AUS
  • Darwin Sailing Club, AUS
  • Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, AUS
  • Cercle Nautique Calédonien, NC

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