Kiwi sailing crew secure $1m payday

New Zealand sail racing team, from left, skipper Phil Robertson, bow James Wierzbowski, trimmer Stewart Dodson and mainsheet/tactics William Tiller. Photo / AP.
New Zealand sail racing team, from left, skipper Phil Robertson, bow James Wierzbowski, trimmer Stewart Dodson and mainsheet/tactics William Tiller. Photo / AP.

Phil Robertson and his Kiwi crew picked up sailing's richest prize after being crowned world match racing champions at the weekend.

Robertson toppled Taylor Canfield in an epic, high-wind duel in Sunday's final of the tour to take out the series and pocket the world champion's bonus of $1,000,000 - the largest prize purse ever awarded in sailing.

The 29-year-old and his Robertson Racing crew also banked US $33,000 for winning in Marstrand, Sweden.

"It's a dream come true and the goal we've been striving for since 2009," Robertson said after the win.

"We've been a super low-budget campaign," said Robertson. "We've paid for everything ourselves this season. So we're over the moon, just can't believe it, we're stoked."

The final produced several twists and turns, with the Kiwi crew coming back from a one-point penalty to take out the regatta.

Robertson was fast out of the blocks in the gusty wind which was bulleting through the fjord at up to 25 knots, with a nasty lumpy chop making it very difficult to maintain the speed on the light, 500kg M32 catamarans through the tacks. Canfield was handicapped by losing his tactician and mainsheet man, Chris Main, who took himself off the boat in the morning due to a long-term shoulder injury flaring up.

"It wouldn't have been fair of me to go out there and hold the boys back," said Main, close to tears at missing his shot at defending the title he won last year with Ian Williams.

With reigning world champion Williams knocked out in the quarterfinals, Canfield was able to bring in GAC Pindar crewman Garth Ellingham as Main's stand-in. Able replacement though Ellingham was, getting the coordination and teamwork right on the M32 at this level requires split-second timing and telepathy between the crew, and US One looked vulnerable on the upwind manoeuvres.

However, Canfield seemed to have the measure of Robertson in the second match and they were neck and neck, on collision course at the top of the course with Canfield on the inside at the left turn mark. As Canfield tacked, Robertson tried to sneak inside him but misjudged the turn with disastrous consequences, with the Kiwi crew clipping US One, puncturing a hole in the float.

The umpires docked Robertson a point to put the score at 1-0 in favour of Canfield, moving the American team to match point.

The US team led early in the third match, but somehow Robertson found his way past Canfield at the top of the final upwind leg and charged down to the finish, levelling the score at 1-1 and forcing a deciding race.

Both teams threw everything at the final start and the first downwind charge to the bottom of the course. They were neck and neck going up the next upwind leg, as both crews wrestled their M32s through the tacks. Towards the top of the track for the last time the two boats converged on collision course and came to blows again, though this time only a glancing one. The umpires slapped a penalty on Canfield and Robertson seized the moment, racing away up the course and across the finish line to the roar of the crowd.

The Kiwis had done it. World Champions. Phil Robertson had become the first million dollar man in sailing, backed up by his athletic crew of fellow Kiwis: Stu Dodson, Will Tiller and James Wierzbowski.

Earlier in the day, Robertson beat Matt Jerwood, Redline Racing from Australia 3-0 in their semifinal match. Canfield had more of a fight with Chris Steele, 36 Below Racing from New Zealand, who pushed his training partner very hard, but US One scraped through to the final 2-1.

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