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U.S. teams earn their turn to compete for the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup

by Stuart Streuli 30 Aug 14:27 BST 7-14 September 2019
Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup © Stuart Streuli / New York Yacht Club

For three United States yacht clubs, the figurative road to the sixth edition of the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup was significantly more challenging than the literal one. While the 17 foreign yacht clubs that will travel to Newport from far-flung ports of call were selected via resume, the American teams were required to battle their way onto amateur sailing's grandest stage. San Diego Yacht Club, Southern Yacht Club and New York Yacht Club will make up the smallest American contingent since the initial regatta in 2009, when just two U.S. teams competed. But the rigorous competition each team had to overcome to earn a spot in this prestigious regattas will serve them well as they toe the line for one of Corinthian sailing's most coveted trophies.

The Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup is a biennial regatta hosted by the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court in Newport, R.I. Since the event was first run in 2009, it has attracted top amateur sailors from the world's most prestigious yacht clubs. After five editions in the Swan 42 class, the 2019 event will be sailed in the IC37, designed by Mark Mills and built by Westerly Marine in Santa Ana, Calif., and FIBRE Mechanics in the United Kingdom. The strict one-design nature of this new, purpose-built class combined with the fact that all 20 boats are owned and maintained by the New York Yacht Club, will ensure a level playing field never before seen in amateur big-boat sailing. The regatta will run from September 7 to 14, with racing taking place September 10 to 14. A broadcast on Facebook Live will allow fellow club members, friends, family and sailing fans from around the world follow the action as it happens. Twenty teams from 14 countries and five continents will compete in the 2019 Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup, which will be held at the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court, September 7 to 14.

As the defending champion, Southern Yacht Club will start the regatta with a target on its back. While the prime architect of that win, skipper Marcus Eagan, opted not sail this year, the Southern bench is quite deep. Stepping in to helm the boat will be Andy Lovell, a former U.S. Olympic Trials runner-up in both the Laser and the Star.

"When the IC37 charter program at the New York Yacht Club was announced, I submitted an indication of interest," says Lovell, who was the 1991 InterCollegiate Sailing Association Sailor of the Year. "When [the Southern Yacht Club] Commodore found out I was planning on participating in the charter program for 2019, he approached me about skippering for SYC. It is a real honor to represent SYC."

Lovell's brother John, a four-time Olympian and a silver medalist in the Tornado class in 2004, will return as the team's tactician, as will crew members Clerc Cooper and Andrew Eagan. Stephen Benjamin, the 1984 Olympic silver medalist in the 470 and a former Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, is a powerful new addition to the team. And this team isn't just good on paper. At the New York Yacht Club's 175th Anniversary Regatta in July, the Southern Yacht Club team (top photo) won the IC37 class by 15 points, winning four of 13 individual races.

"I would think consistency will be the difference between top teams and the fleet," says Lovell. "There will be very talented sailors on every boat, so those who can consistently perform their duties correctly will separate."

While Southern is banking on the Lovells' extensive experience at the top level of the sport, San Diego Yacht Club is looking toward its youth to carry the day, with skipper Tyler Sinks, 30, and tactician Jake LaDow, 26, leading the team.

"Our team is excited to finally compete in this regatta," says Sinks. "We've heard a lot of great things about this event over the years, and we're looking forward to being able to experience it first-hand. Although this is SDYC's first time competing in the event, I don't believe we are at a disadvantage at all. Our team approaches every regatta the same way, and we plan on treating this regatta like any other."

Like with the team from Southern Yacht Club, the San Diego crew has put in its time training this summer, winning the IC37 class at the New York Yacht Club One-Design Regatta and the Sail Newport Regatta.

As the host club, the New York Yacht Club has an automatic berth in the Invitational Cup. However, there was significant member interest in representing the Club; 11 teams signed up for a grueling three-regatta, 23-race qualification series. A crew led by former J/70 rivals Ray Wulff and Andy Fisher emerged from the fray—a little bloodied, but better for it—and will sail under the Club's burgee this September.

"This is something that is been in the back of my mind for six years, before I even joined the Club," says Wulff (at right, in center). "I have the utmost respect for the event, and it's something that I always wanted to participate in, but I didn't think I would be representing New York Yacht Club. I'm just in awe of it."

To win the Club's berth, the team played the long game to perfection, winning rarely, but consistently avoiding bad races. That philosophy is likely to serve them well in the Invitational Cup where the winning team is often the one that can best grind back from adversity.

"I don't think we had a significant advantage in any one area," says Fisher (above, second from left) of the team's win in the qualification series. "I think our strength was consistency. When behind, we chipped away; when ahead, we were conservative. Many on our team can fill multiple rolls, and we minimized mistakes very well."

While neither Fisher nor Wulff has previously competed in the Invitational Cup, the team will benefit from the experience of tactician Brad Read, who sailed with the New York Yacht Club team in 2017 and coached the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in prior years. Read also has an encyclopedic knowledge of Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound.

Racing for the 2019 Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup will start on Tuesday, September 10, with a live broadcast of each race starting on Wednesday, September 11. The regatta will run through Saturday, September 14.

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