Published: Monday, 11 July 2016

Kiwi sailor Phil Robertson's team Robertson Racing was crowned World Match Racing Champion after beating American team US One skippered by Taylor Canfield in an epic, high-wind Final of the World Match Racing Tour in Marstrand, Sweden (July 4-9). 

Phil Robertson Crowned World Match Racing Champion

(Photos: WMRT - Phil Robertson and his Robertson Racing crew)

The 29-year-old and his Robertson Racing crew banked US$33,000 for winning in Marstrand, Sweden, plus a World Champion’s bonus of US$1,000,000. It is the largest prize money awarded in the sport of sailing. “It’s a dream come true and the goal we’ve been striving for since 2009,” he tells the crowd. “To do it here in Marstrand, I couldn’t think of a better place. Thank you all for watching, I hope it was entertaining because we sure had fun.” 

There were so many twists and turns in the final race. 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 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,” says Main, close to tears at missing his shot at defending the title he won last year with Ian Williams.

Phil Robertson Crowned World Match Racing Champion 1

With reigning World Champion Williams knocked out in the Quarter Finals, 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.

Phil Robertson Crowned World Match Racing Champion 2

An extra penalty point against Robertson put the scores to 1-0 in favour of Canfield. For a while it looked like the American team was going to take out the next match and win the title. Robertson found his way past Canfield at the top of the final upwind leg and charged down to the finish, punching the air in defiance.

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.

Phil Robertson Crowned World Match Racing Champion 8

Robertson became the first million-dollar man in sailing, backed up by his athletic crew of fellow Kiwis: Stu Dodson, Will Tiller and James Wierzbowski. “We’ve been a super low-budget campaign,” says Robertson. “We’ve paid for everything ourselves this season. So we’re over the moon, just can’t believe it, we’re stoked.”

He paid tribute to Håkan Svensson, who took over the ownership of the World Match Racing Tour last year, and whose company Aston Harald builds and promotes the M32 catamaran around the world. “The M32s are just so much fun. We’re having a blast. There have been a few sceptics about whether you can do match racing in multihulls. Just take a look at that Final. I’ve never had so much fun match racing as in these cats,” he says.

Phil Robertson Crowned World Match Racing Champion 7

Canfield was grinning from ear to ear. “It’s incredible what Håkan has created for us, we’re definitely back next year. Congratulations to Phil and his team in some of the most challenging conditions you could ask for,” he says. 

Earlier in the day, Robertson beat Matt Jerwood, Redline Racing from Australia 3-0 in their Semi Final 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. In the Petit Final to determine third and fourth place overall, Jerwood beat Steele 2-0. 

Phil Robertson Crowned World Match Racing Champion 5

The spectacle of the Final drew some of the biggest Saturday crowds Match Cup Sweden has seen, with the cliff tops packed with over 30,000 spectators. Svensson was delighted with how his vision for a rejuvenated World Match Racing Tour had worked out. 

“We’ve had a great first season travelling the world, watching the M32s compete on the tour for the first time. And today, the spectators, the sailors, the island of Marstrand, have done us proud,” Svensson says. “We have been very lucky with great conditions this week, and the competitors delivered thrills, action and drama beyond my wildest dreams. I can’t wait to do it all again next season.” 

Phil Robertson Crowned World Match Racing Champion 6