Donnell, Stinson win Koch Cup

(Courtesy of Jim Connell)

Picture some of the most thrilling moments in sports. The buzzer-beating jump shot in basketball, the game-winning touchdown in football, the walk-off home run in baseball.

Now imagine a two-person sailing team taking on grueling 20-knot winds and choppy ocean waves, along with competing against 20 teams from eight different countries over a seven-day, 21-race period. And picture that gauntlet of a week coming down to the last race, and that team winning it by the slightest of margins.

That’s exactly what Jack Donnell and Brooke Stinson of Newport Beach both did, beating the team of Mike Anderson and Amanda Norris from New Zealand, 76-78. Donnell is a 6-foot-4, 16-year-old incoming junior at Corona del Mar, while Stinson graduated last spring from CdM and will be attending Abilene Christian in Texas.

Finland’s team of Niklas Kirkkomaki and Zacharias Still came in a close third, with 79 points.

Sailing a 14-foot Flying Junior boat while naming themselves the Renegades from July 22-28, the two won the William I. Koch International Sea Scout Cup. It was held nearly 10 miles off of the coast of both San Francisco and Oakland, and was sponsored by Cal State Maritime Academy in nearby Vallejo. The race is held every two years in locations throughout the United States. Everyone in the race was in the Boy Scouts of America or in Sea Scouts.

Donnell is also very close to earning his Eagle Scout award, the highest honor in the Boy Scouts, perhaps looking to earn the award sometime this fall. He only needs to attend a final review of Scout leaders, who determine whether he will earn the award, and has already finished his Eagle Scout project, required by Eagle Scouts.

Donnell and Stinson won the first race by nearly five boat lengths and the last clinching race by four boat lengths.

“Probably racing the first day [Thursday] was the toughest,” Donnell said. “The days all blended together. The sixth, seventh and eighth day was tough. We’d been out on the water all day, we were tired … it was sweeter knowing that New Zealand’s known for sailing. It [gives us] a little bit more bragging rights.”

Stinson also enjoyed the experience versus other countries.

“Neither of us had a chance like this,” Stinson said. “It was a fight the whole way. It was exhilarating, it was probably the best time of my life.”

The pair from Newport Beach went into the final day on July 28 tied with New Zealand, who had raced in the Cup before. Stinson and Donnell had never raced in the competition, although both are fairly seasoned youth sailors.

“We knew it was going to be close,” Donnell said. “I’m sure we ended up dropping back sometime during the week. We won five races on Friday, New Zealand won two. We were usually in the top five. Two races, we were 10th or 12th.”

Stinson confirmed Donnell’s take on the last day of racing.

“That last day was really everything,” Stinson said. “The points were so close. We communicated back and forth and that was key. There was no room for error the whole day.”

Waiting anxiously at home were Donnell’s parents, Jim and Kristin. Jim’s a leasing commercial banker, Kristin works in commercial real estate in Newport Beach.

“His mother and I didn’t find out until Friday night,” Jim Donnell said. “We were thrilled. We were on pins and needles. It was so close. I think Jack and Brooke are very good heavy wind sailors. They never capsized once in four days.”

Jack Donnell echoed the sentiment of being a windy weather warrior.

“We’re used to sailing in windy weather,” he said. “I was not out of my comfort zone.”

Kristen Donnell was pretty exhilarated as well.

“We celebrated when we found out,” Kristen Donnell said. “We had a friend who was at the event who was texting us results. He likes Scouts as much as he does sailing.”

Donnell and Stinson both know how close they could’ve come to finishing in second place.

“Every day, if it had been one place better for them, it would’ve been a different outcome,” Jim Donnell said.

Jack Donnell completed his Eagle Scout project in June, doing landscaping work with several other Scouts at St. Marks Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, near where he attended preschool.

“I’ve been in Scouting for six years,” Jack Donnell said. “I’m definitely looking forward to it.”