Two years after their first Congressional Cup campaign, the RNZYS Performance Programme team KNOTS Racing is about to embark to Long Beach for their long-awaited second shot at winning the “Grandfather of Match Racing” and earning the coveted Crimson Blazer. However the KNOTS team, made up of World Match Racing number 3 helm Nick Egnot-Johnson, Sam Barnett, Laurie Jury, Zak Merton, Bradley McLaughlin and Alastair Gifford, has a truly world-class field of 7 other eager crews in their way – but they’re more than ready for the challenge.

KNOTS’s preparation has been assisted by many of New Zealand’s most famous names in sailing as part of the final few days before they fly out Saturday. The crew has been sailing against, and working with, former Congressional Cup winning skippers Dean Barker and Rod Davis, as well as ocean racing stalwart Tony Rae

“We are grateful for receiving an invite again this year, after the border restrictions meant we couldn’t take up our spot last year”, says Sam Barnett. “Our first Congressional Cup in 2019 was the best Match Race regatta we have ever done and we performed really well to finish 5th, and we have been waiting for another go ever since”.

“We have really appreciated the opportunity to train with Barker, Rae and Davis – they all know what it takes to win the biggest events in yachting and really helped us by reinforcing what factors to prioritise in the pre-start.”

“We had some great battles with them aboard the Etchells in training, using the Squadron rock wall as an imitation Belmont Pier and tuning up our timing, communication and lay lines with their help.”

With the 2020 edition of the Congressional Cup being cancelled due to COVID-19, and KNOTS being unable to take part in 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions, the team is looking to come back stronger than ever and make the most of the extra 2 years’ experience since their last campaign.

“Missing out last year was a big disappointment – it’s been a very hard two years at this stage of our careers to not be able to leave and return to NZ. However, we return this year fired up to regain our momentum from 2019.”

KNOTS Racing working on their pre-start positioning against Dean Barker off the RNZYS rock wall – William Woodworth/RNZYS

The last 7 Congressional Cups have been dominated by American and World Match Racing number 5 skipper Taylor Canfield and Englishman, World number 2 Ian Williams, who have shared the title since 2014. However, 2009 winning skipper and World number 7 Johnie Berntsson will also be back to stake his claim for another title, as well as number 6 ranked Australian Harry Price, and Americans’ number 8 Chris Poole and number 14 Pearson Potts.

However, Barnett isn’t daunted by the class of his competitors. “To be honest, the rankings don’t mean anything anymore. They haven’t been relevant for a while and won’t affect our thinking – it is the individual match ups we are excited for”.

“Taylor, Ian and Johnie’s teams were ahead of us in 2019, so we will need to have improved to reach the top. We are confident in our team and our level and won’t be satisfied with anything other than contending for the win overall.”

“Taylor and Ian’s teams both have outstanding records in this event, but they are not unbeatable. We will respect them as opponents, but we are not afraid of them”.

The KNOTS Racing crew aboard Bobby’s Girl training outside the RNZYS – William Woodworth/RNZYS

The key race the KNOTS team are looking forward to is against Ian Williams and his GAC Pindar team. “They were the overall winners last time we raced in the Congressional Cup”, says Barnett, “so they will be a good measuring stick of our progress over the last few years”.

New Zealanders have historically found good fortune in Long Beach before, with Gavin Brady and Chris Dickson having also won the “Grandfather of Match Racing” alongside KNOTS training partners Barker and Davis. However, the team are keeping grounded and avoiding any thoughts of glory. “To join that list we have to win first, and that’s all we are focusing on”, says Barnett.

The KNOTS team heads off on Saturday, with the Auckland based contingent of Barnett, Egnot-Johnson, Jury and Merton really looking forward to linking back up with Brad McLaughlin and Alastair Gifford who have been based in the UK. “We’ve given ourselves two days of preparation, before we are into racing on Tuesday”.

The RNZYS is fully behind the KNOTS Racing team – especially with the team being the first RNZYS crew to travel overseas in 2022 – and hope that the crew can bring home another piece of silverware to add to their growing collection.

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