How do you celebrate battling three days of testing conditions to become the first team in the history of the 420 national championships to win every single race?
If you’re Joe Leith and Josh Ferrissey, you grab the very next opportunity to get the competitive juices flowing, of course.
Leith and Ferrissey have just returned to Auckland after winning the national title at the Evans Bay Yacht and Motor Boat Club in Wellington at the weekend in the double-handed dinghy they only started sailing a year ago.
The duo from Murrays Bay Sailing Club won all 12 races – a first at the nationals, according to 420 Class Association President Paul Sinton – for a 16-point victory over rivals Cameron Brown and Alex Norman.
After the first day was blown out, the 11-boat fleet was faced with a range of conditions – including a shifty race course and breeze of up to 22kn over the next three days.
“We’re super stoked with the result and to be the first team to win every race at nationals is pretty cool,” Leith said.
“Our coach for the last two days [at the regatta] is an Evans Bay local who had come close to winning every race in 2020 but just missed out. At the start of the last day, he pointed out that we could become the first team to win every race and that definitely gave us some extra motivation – to one-up our coach.”
Last month, Leith and Ferrissey finished third at the 2023 Oceanbridge NZL Sailing Regatta off Torbay, with Brown and Norman taking the win.
“After Oceanbridge, Josh and I worked hard on improving our tacks and gybes and our tactics and that seemed to work at nationals – especially on the last day when it was breezy and we knew our manoeuvres would matter,” Leith said.
“We got to put that into practice in a few tacking duels with Cam and Alex and we found that after every tack we were able to get up to speed much quicker.”
A spur-of-the-moment decision saw the Year 11 Rangitoto College students team up in the 420.
“Josh and I sailed Optis together and at the start of last year, Josh was in the Starling and I was just finishing in the P-Class. One day we were walking from school to the yacht club when we saw there was a club 420 [regatta] and we thought it could be fun to just go out in it for a send.
“It was good fun and a few weeks later we bought a proper boat together and started trying hard to sail it well.”
Being friends has its advantages, Leith says – especially when things don’t go quite according to plan in the boat.
“We do have the odd disagreement, but we try hard to put it out of our heads and move on,” he said.
“At nationals we both stuffed up around a bottom mark but instead of getting angry we just decided to stay composed and get on with the race.”
They celebrated their victory with two rounds of go-karting at a course in Porirua on the way back to Auckland – the scores tied at 1-1 after 40 minutes of intense racing.
Juggling schoolwork with sailing and several other sports is as challenging as anything he’s had to face on the water, Leith admits.
“It is tough, especially because I also love cricket, hockey and rugby and I know in the next couple of years I will need to cut back on some of the sports.”
Picking which ones to let go of won’t be easy.
“I have known that I want to be a professional sportsman since I was about 8. I put more time into sailing than any of the others, so that’s probably the one I’ll go with," Leith said.
“I’ll see how the 420 goes this year and then look to transition to the 29er and to one of the Olympic classes from there. I would love to one day win an Olympic medal for New Zealand… and then retire!”
Results from the 2023 New Zealand 420 Open and National Championships, hosted by Evans Bay Yacht & Motor Boat Club
Overall (11 boats):
1st: Joe Leith/Josh Ferrissey (Murrays Bay Sailing Club) (1) 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 – 11 points
2nd: Cameron Brown/Alex Norman (Wakatere Boating Club) 2 3 3 3 2 (4) 2 2 4 2 2 2 – 27 pts
3rd: Tessa Clinton/Nicola Hume (Wakatere Boating Club) (4) 2 2 4 4 2 4 4 2 3 4 3 – 34 pts
Full results here.