When Logan Dunning Beck and Oscar Gunn line up for the start of a crucial European season in Spain in just under a fortnight, they’ll be able to draw on something few of their opponents can.
The pair are two of the elder statesmen in a Kiwi contingent of 36 members across 10 classes competing in the Princess Sofia Regatta in Palma early next month - the first opportunity of the year for the country’s Olympic hopefuls to measure their progress against the best in the world.
It includes six NZ crews in a star-studded 49er fleet of more than 100 boats, all working closely together as part of the team-first strategy developed by Yachting New Zealand’s High Performance department under the guidance of Ian Stewart.
“When Logan started, there would have been pretty small numbers in the class in New Zealand and it’s been pretty cool to see the numbers growing,” Gunn said.
“It makes for good domestic events and hopefully, the younger guys continue to develop and keep pushing us hard.”
Being able to train with another world-class 49er team in Isaac McHardie and William McKenzie could give the Kiwis an edge in Palma, Gunn believes.
“It’s good to have training partners who are at that level so we can keep each other honest and bounce ideas off each other.
“Having that relationship in your own country is quite rare - a lot of the overseas guys are lone rangers who have to pair up with other countries when they can.”
Into their seventh year sailing together, Dunning Beck and Gunn are now the country’s most experienced 49er duo after Peter Burling and Blair Tuke announced they would skip next year’s Olympic Games in favour of defending the America’s Cup.
They were beaten to the start line at the 2020 Games by Burling and Tuke, who claimed silver – their third Olympic medal and New Zealand’s only sailing success in Tokyo.
“Pete and Blair won a relatively close trial [to qualify for Tokyo] and won a medal but we’ve made plenty of improvements since then,” Dunning Beck said.
“Palma is typically a tough regatta. A lot of countries will really be stepping it up and it’s hard to know how we compare until we’ve had that first race.”
The duo’s 2022 season started with a somewhat underwhelming 16th at the same regatta 12 months ago - and ended with a seventh place at the world championships in Nova Scotia.
Compatriots McHardie and McKenzie finished fourth at the same event to underline their ambition in the race to qualify for Paris.
“Last season was really tough for us,” Gunn admits. “It was our first season back after Covid-19 and there were a lot of equipment changes going on. It never really felt like we were where we needed to be, and we had to go back to the drawing board on how we operate and what we need to improve on.”
There have been promising early signs in 2023 – Dunning Beck and Gunn finished second in a strong lineup at the Lanzarote International Regatta in February, with McHardie and McKenzie narrowly missing out on a top-10 position.
“We had a good touch in Lanzarote, and we were lucky that a lot of the world's best [49er crews] wanted to go there for their winter training but we’re under no illusions that Palma will be a whole lot bigger,” Gunn said.
“We definitely feel more settled this time and we know where we're at going into this season.”
While they’re happy to share information and advice with the younger Kiwis in the fleet, there’s only one goal once racing starts.
“Naturally, we want to win every time we race but just as important is to keep making little improvements along the way,” Dunning Beck said.
“There’s not much separating the top teams in the world and we’re all within 1 or 2 per cent of each other. But it’s those small margins that make all the difference in the end – when the best guys in the fleet step away from the good guys.”
The New Zealand team to compete at the Princess Sofia Regatta in Palma, Spain from 4-9 April:
49er: Logan Dunning Beck/Oscar Gunn, Isaac McHardie/William McKenzie, Mattias Coutts/Henry Haslett, Sam Morgan/Pat Morgan, Campbell Stanton/Will Shapland, Scott McKenzie/Blake McGlashan.
49er FX: Jo Aleh/Molly Meech, Alex Maloney/Olivia Hobbs, Courtney Reynolds-Smith/Brianna Reynolds-Smith.
ILCA 6: Olivia Christie.
ILCA 7: Tom Saunders, George Gautrey, Caleb Armit, Luke Cashmore, Luke Deegan.
Nacra 17: Micah Wilkinson/Erica Dawson.
470: Brittany Wornall/Sam Street.
IQFOIL men: Josh Armit, Thomas Crook, Antonio Cozzolino, Patrick Haybittle, Eli Liefting.
IQFOIL women: Veerle ten Have.
Formula kite men: Lochy Naismith.
Formula kite women: Justina Kitchen.
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