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Defender proves age is just a number with Queen's Cup victory

by Stuart Streuli, NYYC 17 Jul 2017 07:07 BST 16 July 2017
The 12 Metre Defender wins the Queen's Cup at the New York Yacht Club © Steve Cloutier

Three and a half decades ago, the 12 Metre Defender left Newport under less than ideal circumstances, having failed in its campaign to represent the New York Yacht Club in the 1983 America's Cup.

This summer, her return to competition has been an unqualified success. On Sunday Dennis William's skippered the restored 12 Metre to a win in the Queen's Cup, knocking off a fleet of a dozen newer and more nimble raceboats to claim one of the New York Yacht Club's most prestigious trophies.

"It's a surprise," said Williams. "It's very hard to tell how you're doing [in handicap racing]. Some of the smaller boats behind us were fairly close, and it's really hard to know how much time you're giving them. But the boat was going well and we were duking it out with the other 12 Metre."

The Queen's Cup, which was first raced in 1953, is an anachronism. It's just one race, rather than a series, and much longer than the traditionally hour-long windward-leeward races that are ubiquitous in modern big-boat racing. The 2017 Queen's Cup course covered 6 legs and 16.2 miles, as the crow flies. The fastest boat took two hours and 11 minutes to complete the course; the slowest nearly three hours. There's also the unique starting procedure, which allows each boat to pick it's starting time within a two-minute window.

"We decided we wanted clear air off the start," says Williams of their approach to the beginning of the race. "There was a pretty large group of boats at the committee boat end so we decided to hang back a little bit and wait for some clear air."

This also put them about 45 seconds behind Challenge XII, the other 12 Metre in the regatta, giving William's team a boat against which they could measure their performance.

"It's a boat that we should be able to go the same speed and same height, so it was helpful to keep us driving the boat and the sails trimmed properly. They started 45 seconds in front of us and finished about 12 seconds in front of us, so we made up a little more than 30 seconds during the course of the race."

Williams said the team's off-the-wind performance on both the reaching and running legs was also key to the win.

"This boat has a particularly good downwind mode, so we're able to sail deeper and faster than the other 12 Metre," says Williams.

Freedom is one of two 12 Metres that Williams owns. Until this year, Williams has primarily sailed Victory '83, which represented Great Britain in the 1983 Louis Vuitton Cup. Freedom, he says, was a rescue project.

"The boat was in Palm Beach and slowly sinking on a mooring," says Williams. "We brought the boat up here and we've been slowly picking away at it as we had time. This year we decided to put a little more effort into it and get the boat out on the water and see what it can do because the boat that hasn't raced in 23 years. We've got used sails and it's a bit of a rag-tag boat. We want to see exactly what we need to do to the boat over the winter to make it more competitive."

The 12 Metre class is seeing a resurgence of interest in advance of the class's 2019 World Championship in Newport. Williams wasn't sure which boat he would work up for that regatta. But the recent performance of Defender is swaying his mind toward the American boat.

"We're pleased at the way the boat is going," he says. "But we've got a lot of work to do."

Finishing second in the 2017 Queen's Cup was Art Santry's Ker 50 Temptation/Oakcliff with the defending champion, Heidi and Steve Benjamin's Spookie, in third.

Overall Results: (IRC)

1. Defender, 12 Metre, Dennis Williams, Newport, RI, USA
2. Temptation-Oakcliff, Ker 50, Arthur Santry, Oyster Bay, NY, USA
3. SPOOKIE, TP52, Steve & Heidi Benjamin, South Norwalk, CT, USA
4. Gladiator, TP52, Bernard Langley, Retford, Nottinghamshire, GBR
5. AFTER MIDNIGHT, CTM41, Paul Jeka, Atlantic Highlands, NJ, USA
6. Regina 2.0, Club Swan 42, Jacob Wallenberg, Stockholm, SWE
7. Entropy, Tripp 41, Patricia Young, Jamestown, RI, USA
8. Zaraffa, Reichel/Pugh Custom, Huntington Sheldon, Shelburne, VT, USA
9. Blazer (IRC), Swan 42, Christopher Culver, Newport, RI, USA
10. Cuordileone, Club Swan 50, Douglas Newhouse, Newport, RI, USA
Challenge 12, 12 metre, Jack LeFort, Jamestown, RI, USA, RET
Gold Digger, J 44, James D. Bishop, New York, NY, USA DNC
Stark Raving Mad VIII, C&C 30 OD, Jim Madden, Newport Beach, CA, DNF

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