Yachting: Tauranga pair show their mettle in Oz

By Peter White

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Tauranga sailors Zac Merton, left, and Sam Barnett training on Tauranga Harbour. Photo / File
Tauranga sailors Zac Merton, left, and Sam Barnett training on Tauranga Harbour. Photo / File

Sam Barnett and Zac Merton continue to make waves on the international youth sailing circuit.

The two 17-year-olds from the Tauranga Yacht and Powerboat Club have just returned from taking on some of the best youth sailors in the world at two regattas sailed off Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne.

"We chose to go to these two regattas because we needed more racing training before our trials in February and March, and potentially the Youth Worlds in July," Barnett said.

"It was really important to know what we had to improve before these regattas and test a few things out. We are really happy with our results and with our consistency in the events. We didn't make too many errors but have picked up on things we want to improve on as well."

First up were the Australian 420 Nationals between Christmas and New Year that attracted 43 competitive teams from Australia, Hong Kong and New Zealand.

It was a gruelling schedule that would have challenged the toughest old sea dogs, with 12 races across five days in mostly shifty 15-20 knot southerly breezes.

Barnett and Merton won races one and nine to finish the regatta third overall, second male youth crew and first international crew.

They had to do it in a borrowed boat and experienced one of the worst moments on the water they had been through when a freakish 50-knot wind damaged and capsized much of the fleet, causing race 2 to be abandoned.

"We were aware that there was going to be something pretty serious happen during the day but, because the conditions were quite fine out there, the race committee decided to go for a second race," Barnett said.

"Once it started, the wind came in quite eerily and then completely disappeared. So we were all drifting around and waiting for something to happen. Across the other side of the bay, the water started to get whipped up a few metres above the surface and it looked pretty serious.

"Then it was like an oven door was opened and the wind was so hot. It was an extra 10 degrees in temperature when it hit, and huge winds came through that were completely unsailable with our mains up so we had to drop our sails.

"We have been in heavy winds, but not as heavy as this, and we were reasonably calm and knew what to do and were fine. But a lot of the less experienced teams found it pretty terrifying."

A week later on the same course, Barnett and Merton took on a similar field in the Australian Youth Championships for under-19 crews in Laser 4.7, Laser radial, 29er, Hobie 16 and 420. They finished top 10 in all races, including a memorable win in race 7, to place third overall, first boys' team and first international team.

The biggest challenge was the fluctuating Victorian weather, which ranged from 17C-43C during the five-day regatta. "It was really hard to work out what to wear each day, so we had to take lots of changes of gear," Barnett said.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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