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Reunited after four years, full Invitational Cup family prepares for competition and camaraderie

by Stuart Streuli, New York Yacht Club 8 Sep 2023 16:50 BST September 9-16, 2023
Invitational Cup family prepares for competition © Dan Nerney

The true beauty of the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup lies in the seamless daily transition from spirited competition to genuine camaraderie.

With identical provided boats and sails, on-the-water umpiring and strict rules regarding competitor eligibility, sailors come ashore each day eager to connect with like-minded people from around the world and without any protests to contest or measurement grievances to air. Afloat, there may be 19 clans all battling for one brass ring. On land, however, erstwhile rivals become long-lost cousins attending a boisterous family reunion where there are only close friends and people that haven't yet met.

"We can't wait to spend some time at the New York Yacht Club and attend all social events to get to know the sailors from all the other clubs," says Peter Backe, helmsman for the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. "As much as we see the regatta as one of the best events in the calendar, we also appreciate the social aspect of it."

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 51 of the world's most prestigious yacht clubs from 22 countries. After five editions in the Swan 42 class, the 2023 event will be the third sailed in the IC37, designed by Mark Mills. The strict one-design nature of this purpose-built class, combined with the fact that each boat is owned and maintained by the New York Yacht Club, will ensure a level playing field not seen in any other amateur big-boat sailing competition. The regatta will run from Saturday, September 9, through Saturday, September 16, with racing starting on Tuesday, September 12. A live broadcast on Facebook and YouTube, starting on Wednesday, September 13, will allow fellow club members, friends, family and sailing fans from around the world to follow the action as it happens. Nineteen teams from 14 countries will compete in 2023. The 2023 Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup is brought to you by title sponsor Rolex and regatta sponsors Helly Hansen, Safe Harbor Marinas, Peters & May and Hammetts Hotel.

A complete entry list can be found here.

Prior to the 2021 Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club was one of five clubs that had participated in every edition of the Invitational Cup, finishing as high as sixth, in 2017, and as low as 16th, in 2019. But the team's passion for the event outshined any disappointment over the results, one reason the RHKYC was an automatic invite when the 2021 Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup Committee gathered to start composing the field of competing yacht clubs.

But then the Covid pandemic hit, and five teams, including Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, were unable to attend. Japan Sailing Federation and Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, the defending champions, were also forced to give up their spots in the event.

"Our team was very disappointed that we couldn't defend our win in 2021," says Royal Sydney skipper Guido Belgiorno-Nettis, who will be sailing in his fourth Invitational Cup. "With Covid and related matters, the world has moved on, so we didn't expect everyone to wait for us to turn up at the starting line when we were allowed to leave Australia again. We realize that the 2021 regatta produced a new champion, and we are looking forward to giving them and the other Invitational Cup teams our best shot."

At the helm of the event itself in 2023, as she was in 2021, is New York Yacht Club member Robbie Benjamin. The lead up to the 2021 event was something of a scramble, the entry list didn't solidify until few weeks before the event.

"There's always a silver lining," says Benjamin. "While we were so disappointed that teams such as Royal Sydney and Royal Hong Kong were unable to attend, the number of teams that stepped up on short notice and put together credible campaigns is proof of the enduring appeal of this event and high-level Corinthian sailing in general. We are so pleased to welcome back two of those teams in 2023, Royal Vancouver Yacht Club and Howth Yacht Club from Ireland. With one edition under their collective belts, I'm confident they will be even more competitive this year, while retaining the infectious enthusiasm that made each team such a welcome addition to the Invitational Cup family."

The collective enthusiasm of the participants peaked in 2021 at the Thursday evening Lobster Bake when a stage and a hot microphone proved irresistible for a few of the more theatrically-minded teams. Whether the impromptu talent show that resulted returns this year remains to be seen.

"We haven't put anything on the schedule," says Benjamin, with a smile. "The stage and PA will be there for our daily awards. If some teams choose to take advantage of the opportunity, well that's totally up to them."

Mandatory practice for the 19 teams participating in the 2023 Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup starts on Sunday, September 10, with the first race on Tuesday, September 12. A live race-by-race broadcast of the regatta will start on Wednesday, September 13. For a full guide to following the 2023 Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup, please visit here.

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