Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Yachting: Kiwi Match Racing contender beats the odds

Laurie Jury. Photo / Getty Images
Laurie Jury. Photo / Getty Images

If Laurie Jury makes a splash on the World Match Racing tour it will be the ultimate comeback story against the odds.

The skipper of Kiwi Match racing had virtually given up full-time sailing a few years ago, concentrating instead on his coaching career, tiring of the struggle to make ends meet.

His ranking ballooned out to near 200 in the world; now this year he will fight with eight of the best crews in the world for the coveted WMRT title, a circuit where Kiwis have a long tradition of success with past champions including Russell Coutts, Chris Dickson, Dean Barker and most recently Adam Minoprio.

"We've worked bloody hard as a team over the past three years to get to this point,'' says Jury. "This is a step up to the big league and we have to perform. If we don't do well we probably won't ever do it again.''

The 29-year-old says his hiatus away from sailing was a matter of necessity; "I had to get a job, make some money and pay some bills,'' remembers Jury.

"I stopped for a couple of years then decided to give it another shot.''

It has been a hard road. The team had to compete in grade three events across the globe to get their ranking down, making for some testing experiences.

"We did a regatta in Poland in boats called Skippy 650s,'' says Jury. "They were just terrible; probably the worst-designed boats in the world. The guys you are racing weren't that good but they knew how to sail these crappy boats.''

He also recalls an event in Russia, where the whole regatta seemed to be run by the local mafia, admitting though that the team was "looked after very well.''

Stretching their budget is a constant battle and often means elongated travel itineraries to gain the best fare. A regatta in the Virgin Islands saw them fly from Auckland to Los Angeles (via Sydney), sharing a hotel room between five in LA, before another flight and overnight stay in New Carolina.

"I think we spent more time getting there and getting back than the length of the regatta,'' says Jury.

Last year was the big breakthrough. They competed in the USA Grand Slam Match Race Series and collected two wins and two seconds to win overall.

They they went on to win the ISAF Nations Cup beating then world No8 Mads Ebler (Denmark) in the final.

Jury has always been one to buck the odds. He wasn't good enough to get in the Lion Foundation Youth Training Programme at the first time of asking, instead being given the job as driver of one of chase boats. When one of the other skippers was absent for a period, he took the chance to prove himself and was accepted the following year.

Gaining a tour card is a coup for Jury and his team but it doesn't come cheap. They need to stump up US$45,000 ($54,900) for the card and then find around US$100,000 ($122,130) for expenses around the season. While a Hong Kong-based sailor helps with financial assistance, they have lost their Chinese sponsor from last year so putting funds together has not been easy.

"I did a week's coaching in Mumbai last year - anything to pay the bills,'' says Jury, who trained a high-ranking Indian officer ahead of the Asian Military games.

He is also one of the coaches of the New Zealand women's match racing team, headed to the Olympics, as well as guiding their Dutch counterparts.

Jury will join fellow Kiwi Phil Robertson and Waka Racing (world number nine) on the WMRT which starts in Germany next month.

- Herald on Sunday

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