If you had asked Ahzai Smith or Christopher Raymond if they expected top performances in regattas in New Zealand — their first time sailing in and visiting the country — they likely would have said no. But not only did they perform well, they both won their fleets.
Ahzai and Christopher, both 12 years old and America’s Cup Endeavour graduates, sailed to victory in Dunedin last weekend. Ahzai won the Gold Fleet, while Christopher won the Silver Fleet in the inaugural New Zealand O’Pen Bic National Championships.
The students flew to New Zealand on January 3 with Leah Collis, an AC Endeavour Programme coordinator, to compete in three regattas.
Ahzai and Christopher participated in the 2015-2016 AC Endeavour Programme and based on student performance and attendance at the Bermuda Sailing Nationals, they were selected after being nominated by instructors from the East and West forts.
The boys were thrilled to notch their first regatta wins, especially in New Zealand — far from home and in very different sailing conditions.
“After the first event, I knew I had a bit of work to do,” Ahzai said. “The conditions were in my favour. After all the heavy wind training we had put in I thought I had a chance. It was really good to see all the sailors that we had previously sailed against again. I really enjoyed the event and was very happy with my results.”
Chris added: “All the hard work we put in paid off. I was a bit nervous previously about strong winds but having been training in the wind I felt way better and it showed during the racing.”
The boys competed in their first regatta in Wanaka on January 7 and 8 where Ahzai was the top performer at the Championship Fleet, and Christopher topped the Green Fleet during Nationals. They will compete in their final event in Queenstown this weekend.
While the focus is competing in the regattas and training in sailing clinics, the boys have participated in a number of outdoor activities including bungee jumping, hiking, outback cycling and visited Otago Boys High School in Dunedin where the first Olympic gold medal won by Sir Russell Coutts, the America’s Cup chief executive officer, is on display.
Leah, their coach on the trip, was ecstatic about their results as well.
“The boys had put a lot of hard work into training leading into the Nationals,” she said. “They did well in the conditions as it was a windy couple of days. It’s fantastic to see how much they have improved and how much they are enjoying their time in New Zealand. They have made new friends and experienced a well-run regatta overseas. Coming first in the event is an extra bonus for the boys. They look forward to their final event in Queenstown next week.”
The boys will travel back to Bermuda at the end of the month. They are working with a private tutor so that they can keep up to date with their school work while travelling.
The America’s Cup and the America’s Cup Endeavour Programme facilitated the experience at no cost to the students.