Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Interview with Phil Robertson, WAKA Racing's Skipper

Phil Robertson (right) with his WAKA Racing team and their entry ticket to the World Match Racing Tour's Korea Match Cup, having won the qualification event. Image copyright SubZero Images/WMRT.

Waka Racing win the Knickerbocker Cup 2010. Supplied image.

New Zealand's young, up-and-coming, Waka Racing match racing team, led by Phil Robertson, who, as PanamaJack Racing had earlier won the Warren Jones regatta in Perth - a noted springboard event for match racers - travelled to Europe and have been doing very well on the international circuit too. The team, composed of Phil Robertson, Garth Ellingham, Sam Bell and James Williamson, are graduates of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron's Youth Training programme.

Phil Robertson at the helm during the World Match Racing Tour's Korea Match Cup. Image copyright Korea Match Cup.

Waka Racing has a successful record from a relatively short appearance on the international stage of match racing. Robertson and Waka Racing are in 21st place in the latest match race rankings. This makes them New Zealand's third ranked match race team, behind World Champions Adam Minprio and BlackMatch Racing (#1) and Reuben Corbett's Black Sheep Racing (#18).

Phil Robertson on his way to victory in the Lion Foundation Youth Cup. Image copyright Sara Roberts/RNZYS.

Recent successes for Phil Robertson and the team include winning the Knickerbocker Cup in New York last month, and finishing on the podium at the Estonia Stage of the Baltic Match Tour and at the Slovenia Match Cup. Earlier this year they won the Korea Match Cup qualifier, to compete on the World Match Racing Tour, and back at home in New Zealand, defeated an international cast in fleet racing to win the BMW Cup 2010 for New Zealand. When not all sailing together, Robertson's Waka Racing crew have also competed with Swedish America's Cup skipper Magnus Holmberg, finishing on the podium at the World Match Racing Tour's Stena Match Cup Sweden.

Phil Robertson and crew on their way to victory in the Warren Jones regatta in 2009. Image copyright John Roberson.

Anne Hinton caught up with Phil Robertson after they had won the Knickerbocker Cup, defeating two other Kiwi teams in the process at this international event in the USA.

AH: How, in what, and at what age, did you start sailing?

PR: I started sailing at the age of 6 crewing for my father in a Sunburst. Then at 10 I started sailing Optis.

Phil Robertson finishes 3rd overall at the Governors Cup, international youth match racing, USA. Image copyright RNZYS.

AH: What was your progression through boats/events?

PR: I raced Optimists for 4 years at Kohimarama Yacht Club competing in all the major National events. I gained selection and raced in the Oceania Games in 2001 and the World Champs in Texas in 2002. I then sailed P Class for two years, finishing with a 3rd place at the nationals. I then campaigned a 420 for two seasons, then joined the RNZYS Youth training programme sailing the Elliot 6.

AH: When did you do the RNZYS youth programme and get into match racing?

PR: I started the programme at 17 and sailed in it for 3 years. My first year there I sailed with Adam Minoprio as his bow man. I helmed my first match racing regatta in Wellington at the end of my first season.

Waka Racing with their prizes after winning Rimini Match Race, Italy, 2009. Supplied image.

AH: Which people/teams have you competed against a lot?

PR: We know all the kiwi teams (Corbett, Tiller, Jury, and Minoprio) really well and have raced with and against them a lot. We have all known each other for a long time and there is a good rivalry forming now amongst all the teams.

Waka Racing sailing on board Slipstream at the BMW Cup Final on the Waitemata in Auckland, NZ, which they won for New Zealand. Supplied image.

AH: Please could you mention key results throughout your sailing career?

PR: 4th Opti Nationals 2002
3rd P class nationals 2003
1st Warren Jones (Trimmer for Adam) 2006
1st Coke Cup 2007, 2008
1st Warren Jones 2009
1st Asian Match Racing Champs 2009
1st Chicago Match Cup 2009
6th Monsoon Cup 2009
1st BMW Cup 2010
2nd Slovenia Match Cup 2010
1st Knickerbocker Cup 2010

AH: What career have you had alongside the sailing?

PR: After I left school I began a Building apprenticeship. I finished that in 2008 and then saved up to take 6 months off, sailing in Europe. I still love to build when I get the chance back at home but sailing is number 1 for now.

Robertson (NZL) leads Neugodnikov (RUS) in the pre-start during the finals of the Slovenia Match Race Cup 2010. Image copyright Slovenia Match Race Cup.

AH: What made you decide to take on match racing internationally?

PR: Match racing is a fantastic sport that I thrive on. The reason is that I love the challenge of sailing with a team. I find it much more interesting experiencing the highs and lows with people rather than yourself. I also took this path as I see it as the best way to achieving my goals in sailing.

AH: How do you see your sailing progressing into the future?

PR: It is too hard to pick right now. I am young and have big goals and I’m not going to give up until I am satisfied.

Waka Racing on the World Match Racing Tour. Image copyright Waka Racing.

AH: Of the major events – Olympics/Volvo/America’s Cup – which do you want to do?

PR: America's Cup has always been a dream so that is one of the targets. Every aspect of it is appealing and that is where my sights are set for now. I would also love to do a Volvo campaign. The ocean is something I love and the challenge of the Volvo excites me.

AH: What support have you had in your sailing?

PR: Parents were the biggest support growing up. Once in the programme the RNZYS became the support. Guy Pilkington, from the Youth Training Programme, and Ross Masters, Commodore of the RNZYS, have been great supporters and friends to the team. They have set us up to take the next step and have continued to be involved, long after we graduated from the Youth Training Programme.

Waka Racing at the World Match Racing Tour's Monsoon Cup 2009. Image copyright SubZero Images/WMRT.

AH: Who have been the most influential people in your sailing?

PR: My parents supported me in the early stages. Now they are the number 1 fans of the team.

AH: Who do you most look up to in sailing in NZ/internationally, and why?

PR: Team NZ is the team I look up to the most. They are so dominant internationally. The team has stuck together for so many years and now you can see it all paying off.
Sir Peter Blake and Russell Coutts are two sailors I aspire to the most. They are both not only brilliant sailors but also great team players. The strengths they have off the water in putting together a team and campaign are second to none.

Waka Racing finish third on the Estonia leg of the Baltic Match Tour 2010. Supplied image.

AH: What sponsors have you had in your sailing?

PR: Over the last two years we have been on our own with it being a huge challenge financially to support a team of 4 sometimes 5 people overseas. We simply could not have done it without Widex NZ last year and this year with Tax Management NZ as our main sponsor.
Along the way we have had other companies that have helped by supporting us with goods and services, rather than direct financial support. Last year this was Frontend (Logo Design), and Ross Munroe from Line 7. This year it is Zhik (Sailing Gear), Frontend (Website), Devine Consulting Ltd (Accounts), Wells and Co (Legal Advice), and PredictWind (Weather).

Waka Racing at the World Match Racing Tour's Korea Match Cup 2010. Image copyright Korea Match Cup.

AH: How did you develop the sailing programme of training/events to compete in for 2010?

PR: We have targeted the World Tour qualifiers and high quality regattas this year to up our skill level as opposed to our ranking. That has been the main focus of this year’s campaign and think our ranking will rise fast rather than steadily.
After making a number of contacts last year we have been able to fill in some of the gaps between our regattas quite nicely. This has involved training with Mike Perris (who a number of the BlackMatch crew sail with) prior to some events. Also my crew has been lucky enough to race with Magnus Holmberg in 3 World Tour events. The highlight being when they placed 3rd at Match Cup Sweden.

AH:What have been the highlights of racing over the past year for you?

PR: The highlights so far have been competing in the Monsoon Cup and Korea Match Cup.

Waka Racing win the Chicago Match Cup 2009. Image copyright CMRC.

AH: What plans do you have for racing in 2011?

PR: We are in the process of planning at the moment. We have the goal of finding enough funding to compete on the World Tour.

AH: What developments in the sport of sailing would you like to see in the future – in NZ and internationally?

PR: (a) I would really like to see developments in course technology using GPS regards to starting lines, marks (two/three length zones) to cut out any margin for error or 50/50 calls.
(b) I would also like to see increased TV coverage of sailing and the ongoing development of on board cameras and audio. It makes it all a lot more exciting to watch.

AH: Thank you very much for your time and all the best for your future sailing.

WAKA Racing