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Nick Egnot-Johnson tops Leonard Takahashi in all-New Zealand Governor’s Cup final

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Alastair Gifford, skipper Nick Egnot-Johnson, and Sam Barnett, from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, hoist the Governor’s Cup trophy during a celebration at the Balboa Yacht Club in Newport Beach on Saturday.
(Don Leach / Staff photographer)

The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron brought three teams to the 53rd annual Governor’s Cup International Youth Match Racing Championship, so the club had to like its odds of having at least one boat in the final.

As it turned out, two close friends wound up facing each other on Saturday, each looking for their first win in the regatta.

Nick Egnot-Johnson, the highest-ranked skipper in the fleet at No. 7 in World Sailing’s open match racing rankings, set sail against Leonard Takahashi, who had finished as the runner-up the previous two years. The two biggest sharks in the water had been left to battle for the top spot.

A drama-filled day of match racing ended with Egnot-Johnson holding off Takahashi in the fifth and final flight to win the Governor’s Cup title.

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“It’s such an amazing experience to be able to come here and walk away with the win,” Egnot-Johnson said once his team had arrived back at the host Balboa Yacht Club. “It’s such a prestigious event. It means a lot to us. It’s great.”

Competitors in the Governor’s Cup must be 22 years of age or younger through the end of the regatta. At the age of 21, Egnot-Johnson was just of legal age for what would happen next.

The celebration ensued shortly after Egnot-Johnson’s boat had been docked. Fans showered Egnot-Johnson and his crew members, Alastair Gifford and Sam Barnett, in champagne, before they were pushed into the water.

Takahashi came over to congratulate Egnot-Johnson’s team on the dock, too.

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“We train with him back home, and we’ve grown up sailing against him the whole time, so we’re real close,” Egnot-Johnson said of Takahashi. “Best of mates.”

In a press conference at the end of the regatta, Takahashi announced that he would not be returning for a sixth Governor’s Cup. Although he finished as the runner-up for the third consecutive year, Takahashi provided a signature moment.

When the boats came in at the end of Friday’s action, Takahashi found himself in a hole for the first time during the regatta. He had either been in sole-possession of or tied for the lead throughout the double round robin. It was the California Yacht Club’s Frank Dair, however, who had a 2-0 lead in the semifinals to start the day.

Takahashi completed a backdoor sweep in his semifinal with Dair, reaching his third consecutive Governor’s Cup final in stunning fashion.

“It was really cool to come back from a tough situation like that,” Takahashi said, adding that he enjoyed sailing against fellow Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron skippers in the medal rounds.

Although Dair sailed under the American flag, he went to school in New Zealand. He was also a product of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron youth program.

Again in the championship final best-of-five series, Takahashi dropped the first two races. Egnot-Johnson rode the right side of the course to success in the first two flights, and he secured the fifth flight to deny Takahashi a truly improbable second backdoor sweep.

“As soon as the right-hand side of the course started paying off, it was the big blow to us,” Takahashi said. “In that first race, we really messed it up. Obviously, Nick sailed really well and got those two races.

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“Once we adjusted to that, we feel like we sailed really well. We [came back], which is really cool.”

Jack Parkin, who represented the Riverside Yacht Club of Connecticut and the Stanford sailing team, held a lead of 2-1 in his first-to-three-points semifinal against Egnot-Johnson.

“It was a hard semifinal,” Parkin said. “We were up one, and then we lost two races in a row. It came down to the last race, the last upwind [leg], so it was really a battle the whole way.

“We just hit a couple of bad tacks and a couple bad waves. That was it. That was the difference, pretty much.”

In the petit final, Parkin swept Dair 2-0. Taking third place offered some consolation, as Parkin said his team was motivated to finish on the podium.

Jordan Stevenson of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron swept Finn Tapper of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia for fifth place.

Matt Whitfield of the Penarth Yacht Club beat Balboa Yacht Club skipper David Wood 2-1 for seventh place.

Clare Costanzo of the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club won both her flights against Cameron Feves of the Cabrillo Beach Yacht Club to claim ninth place.

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Jeppe Borch of the Royal Danish Yacht Club also swept Mans Holmberg of the Royal Swedish Yacht Club in the 11th-place series.

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