Robertson finds more gold at the end of his rollercoaster

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After a week of ups and downs, a couple of bad hooks and a few close shaves, it was business as usual for the super smooth Phil Robertson and his CHINAone Ningbo team as they beat Sam Gilmour’s Neptune Racing team 3-0 in the final of WMRT Match Cup Russia in St. Petersburg on Sunday. 

Robertson, the current Match Racing World Champion, is the undisputed master of cat match racing at the moment and showed his claws when it counted this week as he has bounced back off the ropes from all his opponents, and the weather, could muster. 

“It’s been a rollercoaster week for us,” Robertson said. “We’ve been up against it from the start. That’s what is so great about match racing, it’s do or die. Today we went out and did it. We gelled and we were saying that it was the first time this week that we felt we were sailing well, we struggled in the early rounds. We’ve been pushed right to the edge.”

One big reason for the 30-year-old New Zealander’s success is that he has kept his slick teammates – Will Tiller, Stewart Dodson and James Wierzbowski – with him since winning the World Championship last year. They are unbeaten in the M32 since then, having won Match Cup Australia in March, GKSS Match Cup Sweden at the beginning of July and the M32 World Championships a week later. 

It was his third consecutive 3-0 Match Cup final win, but victory this week was harder won than the others. Robertson was relegated to third in his group in the Qualifying Stage fleet races on Tuesday and Wednesday and had to come back from 2-0 to Steve Thomas in the SUPER 16, looking more vulnerable in the bigger conditions. He was pushed to the wire by Pieter-Jan Postma, uncharacteristically giving up a 2-0 lead to be pulled back to 2-2 before closing out. 

In the Semi Finals on Sunday morning against Ian Williams (GAC Pindar), Britain’s six-time Match Racing World Champion, Robertson looked distinctly human. He lost the second race to make it 1-1 after being penalised at the start then, already well behind, lost a man overboard and hooked a buoy at the bottom mark for a couple of minutes.  

And there was controversy over a penalty decision on the first downwind as they went bow-to-bow in the third race. But Robertson won a gusty fourth to make it 3-1. “We were disappointed because we felt we had the game to beat Phil today,” Williams said. There was some consolation in finishing third as the team had at GKSS Match Cup Sweden and that it was Matt Jerwood who he beat 2-1 in the Petit Final, after Jerwood had beaten him 3-0 in the SUPER 16 of Match Cup Australia. 

“I think people have realised that it’s a one-boat tour and you’ve got to be a professional M32 sailor to compete,” Robertson said. 

The 23-year-old Australia skipper, Gilmour, knows that and after not getting past the SUPER 16 this year, puts getting to his first final on the tour down to being away from home and in the M32 for the last two months. He may have been spent after winning a nail-biting semi-final in the morning, beating his Perth training mate, Matt Jerwood (Redline Racing), 3-2, after trailing 2-1.  In the deciding race, Jerwood, going for a gap at the start that wasn’t quite there, hooked the pin end buoy between his hulls. “We’ve had a great week and it was good to get all the way to final, but we didn’t sail very well at all in the last race,” Gilmour said. “We were slower. I don’t know if we were a bit nervous, it might have got to us. But now we know what you’ve got to do to win this event.”

All four seasons graced Finals Day, including a 30-knot squall whipping in from the Baltic Sea across the Gulf of Finland and up the Neva River into the spectacular race area in front of the Peter and Paul Fortress. Robertson remained the master of all he surveyed, making the M32 talk in the pre-start river current and fly in gusts. His experience from three previous visits to the Neva River with his team really told. 

By the time the sun was shining on the golden dome of the St. Isaacs Cathedral for the Final, Robertson was on song. The first race was close, Gilmour won the start, but was 18 seconds behind on the line. And even though he cut that to 8 seconds in the second race, the reality was that it was a relatively comfortable wire-to-wire win for Robertson. 

Interviewed on the boat after that race, Robertson, who simultaneously looked focused and so relaxed he was almost horizontal, was asked about Gilmour’s comment that he had been “chopping into him” and closing all the way to the finish. “I taught him everything he knows, I think he’s even stolen some of our moves, so, I’m not surprised he’s sailing well.” Robertson said, half-jokingly. Robertson invited Gilmour to join his crew for the M32 World Championship win in July. There is genuine camaraderie and respect between the two and Robertson knows Gilmour and others are coming forces. “The boys have been reminding me that I’m actually one of the oldest on the tour now,” Robertson admitted. 

After a third race that was even more conclusive, Gilmour noted with a wry smile that, “I don’t think Phil taught me all his moves,” and repeated the same to Robertson, in good humour, as they parked their cats on the beach. 

“I think Sam’s got to do something nasty to him on the startline,” Jerwood said before the start of race 3, but it was Robertson who did the nasty as he deployed his gennaker early, hit the line almost perfectly and won by 69 seconds. 

We will see if the fleet is really closing on Robertson at the next stopover of the World Match Racing Tour when top flight match racing heads for the USA.

SEMI FINAL

PAIR 1

Sam Gilmour (AUS), Neptune Racing 3 – 2 Matt Jerwood (AUS), Redline Racing

PAIR 2
Phil Robertson (NZL), CHINAone Ningbo 3 – 1 Ian Williams (GBR), GAC Pindar 

PETIT FINAL

Ian Williams (GBR), GAC Pindar 2 – 1 Matt Jerwood (AUS), Redline Racing

FINAL

Phil Robertson (NZL), CHINAone Ningbo 3 – 0 Sam Gilmour (AUS), Neptune Racing

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