If the second half of 2022 heralded a near-meteoric rise in the skiff sailing ranks for Seb Menzies and George Lee Rush, the first few months of 2023 have been all about small gains.
And the duo, one of the country’s newest pairings in a 49er fleet brimming with talent, admit they’re still getting used to the change of pace.
Menzies and Lee Rush are fresh off a third place at the Oceanbridge NZL Sailing Regatta at Torbay - their best result in a boat they only started sailing a few months ago and their biggest competitive event since their breakthrough 2022.
“Last year was definitely a good one for us – being able to get back overseas and to find out how we compare with the rest of the world,” Menzies said.
The answer was resounding – the pair finished third in the 29er at the Youth Sailing World Championships in early July, before winning gold in the 49er FX at the Junior World Championships three weeks later.
Both regattas were among their first in the respective classes against top competition – but their transition to the full 49er has been slightly less seamless.
Menzies and Lee Rush were fourth in an eight-boat fleet at the 49er National Championships at Royal Akarana Yacht Club in February, after a sixth place (from six boats) at the Auckland Championships in January.
Both regattas were won by Campbell Stanton and Will Shapland.
Two victories in lighter breeze on the final day propelled Menzies and Rush up the leaderboard at the Oceanbridge regatta, with Scott McKenzie and Blake McGlashan winning and Stanton and Shapland second.
“So far this year has been all about coming to grips with the 49er,” Lee Rush said.
“The FX was a very useful stepping stone because everything is very similar, and it’s allowed us to learn our roles but we realise we still have a long way to go in all areas of the boat.”
After crewing during their six months in the 29er, the pair decided that Menzies was better suited to helming in the 49er.
“Neither of us had ever really crewed before and at the time we felt it made sense for Seb to do it but, longer term, this is definitely how we want to have it.”
While boat-handling and refining their on-boat responsibilities are an ongoing focus, the pair also have to pay close attention to what they’re doing in the gym and at the dinner table. Menzies and Lee Rush need to add about 15kg between them to avoid “being bounced around in the big wind” in the 49er.
“We’ve been working with a nutritionist and lifting weights, but it’s been a pretty slow, tough process,” Menzies says.
“It’s easy enough for us to go out training but it’s much harder to eat all the time. We’re getting there but there is still quite a bit to do.”
Lee Rush enjoyed local and international success in Optimist sailing while Menzies dominated the 420 fleet in New Zealand and abroad before joining forces.
And while their partnership is still relatively young, it’s been some time in the making.
“I think we always kind of had each other in mind as sailing partners and after the Covid-19 lockdown [in 2021] things just worked out that way,” Menzies explained.
“We’ve known each other for quite a few years and we were mates long before we started sailing together. After the lockdown, we realised that our goals aligned pretty well and we just thought we would give it a go.”
They hang out even when they’re not on the water or in the gym, and it’s been beneficial for their on-board communication, Lee Rush believes.
They’re about to see even more of each other after last week being named in the Live Ocean Racing team for the 2023 ETF26 Grand Prix series starting in Europe in April.
Menzies joins Liv Mackay, Alex Maloney, Andre van Dam and Serena Goodall in the line-up, while Lee Rush has been included as a reserve sailor in the team created by Peter Burling and Blair Tuke as part of their Live Ocean Foundation.
“We are trying to broaden our sailing skills by doing some different kinds of sailing,” Menzies said.
“We’re also keen to give the Moth Worlds [in the UK in June] a go and to try to do a bit more coaching. But the 49er is definitely our main priority.”
The opportunity to work closely with Burling and Tuke is a bonus.
“Those guys are absolute legends and they have achieved so much. We’ve already had a few opportunities to sit down with Blair and just talk to him about a whole range of things, which has been really cool,” Lee Rush said.
And, yes, they have their sights set on one day emulating the decorated Olympians in the 49er.
With the single spot at next year’s Paris Games likely to go to either Logan Dunning Beck and Oscar Gunn or Isaac McHardie and Will McKenzie, Menzies and Lee Rush have their sights set on Los Angeles in 2028.
“That is very much the plan for us – to target 2028. We realise there is plenty of talent coming through in the fleet and that we have a lot still to do, but representing New Zealand at the Games and hopefully winning a medal would be awesome.”
Until then they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.