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Leonard Takahashi, Finn Tapper lead fleet on first day of Governor’s Cup

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The boats skippered by Leonard Takahashi, center, and Nick Egnot-Johnson, right, compete in the 53rd Governor’s Cup in Newport Beach on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer )

The 53rd annual Governor’s Cup International Youth Match Racing Championship, which is being hosted by the Balboa Yacht Club in Newport Beach, does not have a defending champion.

Australia’s Harry Price, a two-time winner of the event in 2015 and 2018, walked off a champion in his final year of eligibility. Competitors in the tournament must not have reached their 23rd birthday.

Still, the tournament has its favorites, namely Leonard Takahashi and Nick Egnot-Johnson, who both hail from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.

Takahashi has finished as the runner-up in back-to-back Governor’s Cups. The 20-year-old holds dual citizenship in Japan, and he had also spent much of the past year sailing foiling catamarans for the Japanese professional team on the SailGP circuit.

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Egnot-Johnson entered the week as the highest-ranked skipper in the fleet, coming in at No. 11 in World Sailing’s open match racing rankings.

The opening races on Tuesday had a different story line in mind, at least early on. Finn Tapper, who represents the same club as Price in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, won his first five races, looking very much like another contender for the Governor’s Cup this year.

“Harry is obviously an incredible sailor, and he has been a bit of a mentor to me,” Tapper said. “I’ve done a bit of sailing with him, so if I could do anything as well as him at this regatta, that would be great. To come away with the trophy like he did, that would be everyone’s intention.”

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The boats skippered by Frank Dair and Jack Parkin compete in the 53rd Governor's Cup in Newport Beach on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Australia’s Clare Costanzo of the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club stole some of the spotlight from her fellow countryman, ending Tapper’s attempt at a perfect opening day in the sixth flight.

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Costanzo said she was unaware that Tapper had been the last undefeated skipper in the field, but she said the win was a byproduct of her crew gaining momentum after its first win over Frank Dair (California Yacht Club) the race prior.

“Once we got the momentum from that first win, it just keeps going and going and going,” Costanzo said after finishing the afternoon with three straight wins. “We realized the stuff that we were doing right.”

Takahashi defeated Tapper in the final race of the day to draw even with the latter for first place with five points. Having placed his focus elsewhere for the past year, Takahashi downplayed his status as a favorite.

“I wouldn’t count myself as a favorite,” Takahashi said. “I’ve taken a year off match racing, and this is my first regatta since the Governor’s Cup last year.

“It’s obviously going to be a hard road for us, but hopefully, we can pull some form back and give everyone a good run for their money.”

Making his second appearance at the Governor’s Cup, Jack Parkin made big moves. The Connecticut-based Riverside Yacht Club product, who is headed into his junior season as a member of the Stanford sailing team, struck before Takahashi could recapture his mastery of match racing, handing the two-time finalist his first loss of the tournament.

Parkin also defeated Egnot-Johnson, setting up an early matchup of the two remaining undefeated skippers in the fourth pairing. Tapper defeated Parkin, and he remained unbeaten through his first five matches.

Last year, Parkin earned the nickname of “The Giant Slayer” after beating both Takahashi and Price during the course of the double round-robin, a run that nearly landed him in the semifinals in his Governor’s Cup debut.

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Parkin said that his crew of Wiley Rogers, Victoria Thompson and Bram Brakman is the same that he brought to the Governor’s Cup last year. While he does not have a goal for total number of wins, Parkin said that he would like to make the semifinals or better.

“[It is] the same crew as last year, so everyone has seen the boats [GovCup 22 sloops] a bit,” Parkin said. “It’s pretty good, compared to some of the teams that haven’t sailed them, so we felt pretty quick.”

Four skippers ended Tuesday’s action in a tie for third place with four points. They were Jordan Stevenson (Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron), Dair, Egnot-Johnson and Parkin.

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Boats compete in the 53rd Governor's Cup in Newport Beach on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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