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Humility a key cog in Aussie battle plan for 2017 Rolex Invitational Cup

by Stuart Streuli 13 Aug 2017 11:55 BST 9-16 September 2017
The Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron at the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup © Rolex / Daniel Forster

Historically, two of the best indicators of success in the biennial Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup are a strong track record in the tricky Swan 42 raceboat and prior experience racing in the regatta. The boat is a challenge to sail well—especially with the provided all-purpose sails and standardized rig tune—and the event itself is unique in the world of Corinthian sailing.

So in trying to establish a form guide for the 2017 Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup, which is sponsored by Rolex, Porsche, Nautor's Swan, AIG and Helly Hansen and will take place September 9 to 16 out of the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court in Newport, R.I., the fourth-place finish in 2015 by regatta rookie Guido Belgiorno-Nettis and his team from Australia looms large. Despite no previous experience in the Swan 42, Belgiorno-Nettis (right, at helm) and his crew were able to win three races and finish just 10 points off the lead in the most competitive edition of this biennial Corinthian classic, which was first sailed in 2009.

However, Belgiorno-Nettis, who will represent Australia's Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron this coming September, is having none of that talk. In his mind, he's still an outsider clawing for a modicum of respect from a fleet stacked with seasoned veterans.

"I think the good placing in the 2015 edition was a fluke," he says. "We had no idea how to sail a raceboat with twin wheels and a retractable bow sprit. I don't think we will be anywhere near the podium this time. Our expectations are to enjoy the wonderful hospitality of the New York Yacht Club and sail well enough to honour the opportunity to represent the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron."

Fortifying this self-deprecatory stance are the facts that he hasn't sailed a Swan 42 since the 2015 edition, the timing of the regatta puts it right at the end of the antipodean winter when most Aussie sailors are shaking off the rust, and, due to Belgiorno-Nettis switching from Middle Harbour Yacht Club to Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, just two of his nine crew for this year sailed with him in in 2015.

Nonetheless, there is plenty of evidence that the RSYS team will be one to watch.

"You don't win three races, or place fourth of 17 in a 12-race series, on luck," says event chair Patricia Young. "Guido and his team may be short on specific Rolex Invitational Cup experience, but I suspect they will be plenty talented. He won the Farr 40 World Championship at a time when that was one of the toughest regattas in the world to win. He's no stranger to competitive one-design racing in larger boats."

And while he may not rate his chances highly, Belgiorno-Nettis does have a plan of action: "Our biggest challenge will be in getting the mechanics right on the boat," he says. "My memory of the Swan 42 is that they are tricky to get into the right groove. Moding the boat will be a big part of getting to the front end of the fleet."

Further motivation will come from the presence of a contingent of fans from the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. Among the many things that make the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup unique the support teams receive from their friends, family and fellow members back home. Each team is truly competing for something bigger than just the sailors on board the boat.

"We have received tremendous support from the Squadron," says Belgiorno-Nettis. "Commodore Richard Chapman and his wife will be joining the cheer squad with some other friends. The Squadron have been very helpful in some of the logistics and helping with crew gear, not to mention their coverage of our campaign on the in-house newsletters. We are very honoured to be representing the squadron. Of course the pressure is on, but we are up for it!"

In other words, despite all the modest talk and reasons to think otherwise, competitors in the 2017 Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup should discount the chances of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron at their own risk.

nyyc.org/yachting/invitational-cup

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