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Yutes: I love to match race; it makes us better all-around sailors

LONG BEACH, CA – The Prince of Wales Bowl is the USA's annual national match racing championship, dating from the first championship in 1937. The popular event now has regional qualifiers, the winners advancing to the national final hosted by a different USA club each year. This year's final will be sailed at Oakcliff Sailing (Oyster Bay, NY on Long Island) in their Match 40’s, October 13-15.

Earlier this summer I raced with a team from my home club, Balboa Yacht Club in Newport Beach, CA, in the Rose Cup – the USA's Youth Match Racing Championship hosted beautifully by Fort Worth Boat Club. I was bowman for skipper David Wood and, after a slow start, we managed to come on strong and win.

A few weeks ago, BYC hosted the 51st annual Governor's Cup, our club's prestigious international youth match racing championship inspired by the famous Congressional Cup. Two weeks later BYC also hosted World Sailing's relatively new (four years) Youth Match Racing World Championship. I ate my heart watching the racing, but worked on both events and learned a lot just from watching and serving as an "Ambassador" to competing teams. I am convinced that USA match racing gurus Dave Perry and Andy Rose are right – the more we match race, the better all-around sailors we become. I wanted to do more match racing, and on the helm.

Last weekend was my first real chance. Hosted by Long Beach Yacht Club in the their Congressional Cup fleet of Catalina 37s, I entered a team – Cricket Racing (long story, but it's the nickname given to me by an offshore crew I regularly sail with) – in the Southern California regional qualifier for the Prince of Wales Bowl. I would skipper with crew Max Brennan, Max Mooseman, Eric Berzins, Chris Bretschger and Tyler Wolk.

While I have been sailing for nine years, this was the first time I had ever match-raced a boat this big and only my second time as a skipper for any MR event. It was also the first time racing against some of the best match racing adults in our area, including Dave Hood, who has been racing Catalina 37’s for 5 years; and Chris Nesbitt who has been racing longer than I have been alive! I was so excited to sail against these amazing sailors. Aside from Max Brennan, who like me is a teen just learning to drive, my crew were all adults who race regularly in the Pac 52 and Fast 50 classes. I had a great crew.

Going into the event I knew that it was going to be tough and expected only to win a few races. On the first day, we had light winds of 8kts. Our team went 5-1 in the first round robin, losing only to Chris Nesbitt who finished RR1 with a 6-0 record. Close behind us in third was Justin Law, one of my sailing coaches, with a record of 4-2. To say the least I was thrilled, and could hardly believe how well the day had gone.

The team and I went out for post-race sushi to celebrate and relax. When I got home, it hit me…the butterflies in my stomach, the sleeplessness, the whole deal. I couldn't stop thinking about what could happen the next day, with six more races to determine who would qualify for the nationals, and we were definitely in the hunt.

I did not get much sleep and was tense Sunday morning when we got back to LBYC. Trying to chill, we docked out early and just went sailing. On the ride out to the racing area, Tyler Wolk – a pro sailor with a serious day job who had just won the Transpac Barn Door with Manouch Moshayedi's RIO 100 – saw how nervous I was. He cranked up the music to help loosen me up. We left the harbor blasting "Danger Zone” (the Top Gun theme song by Kenny Loggins). We got some odd looks from the diners doing brunch at the waterfront restaurants that line the Long Beach channel.

Forecast for Day 2 was 12kts, gusting to 15. Our first race was against another young skipper, Sidney Gathrid, a high school senior from Del Rey Yacht Club. We had a super close race, only squeaking by them on the second upwind for the win. After that, the butterflies went away and I went into a more relaxed full-race mode. We raced Brian Bissel, Dave Hood, Justin Law, and Michael Levy, winning each race.

This brought us to our bye race where we de-briefed about all the things we had done well, and could have done better, and got ourselves psyched for the most important and last match of the regatta – against Chris Nesbitt, who in the meantime had lost two matches so was definitely beatable! Under round-robin scoring the winner of that last race would take the regatta – if we won, we'd be alone on top; if we lost our win-loss records would be the same but Chris would win on the tie break – and go to Oakcliff for the national championship.

The 7-minute gun went off and we were in sequence. After a intense pre-start joust, I lost the start against Chris by half a boat-length. We engaged him in a tacking duel, but he and his crew did a great job and held the lead to the top mark. Downwind, he beat us to a gybe to keep his air clean, and from that point it was going to be difficult to catch up. Chris's team continued to do a nice job covering, and despite trying everything we could do to run him down, he beat us across the finish line to win the qualifier.

I was sorely disappointed, but after cooling down and with some good counsel from my excellent crew it became clear that we should be content with our 10-2 scoreline and second overall. I hope and expect to improve on that next year, had a lot of fun, and, most importantly, learned a lot.

On behalf of my crew, we want to thank the Maritime Sciences and Seamanship Foundation and the Newport Harbor Sailing Foundation for their generous support of our team. Long Beach Yacht Club hosted a terrific event, and I can't wait to get back on the 37’s and do it again!

Despite Queen Victoria having been told in 1851, "There is no second" – or so the famous story goes – when you are only 15 years old and racing in your first major match race as a skipper against some big dogs, second is probably something to celebrate, and learn from. With medals around their necks is Team Cricket, from left: Max Moosmann, Max Brennan, skipper Jeffrey "Cricket" Petersen, Chris "Grasshopper" Bretschger, Tyler Wolk, and Eric Berzins.

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