NYYC Invitational Cup: One-design racing at its best

Rhode Island: It was just the sort of moment that the founders of the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup envisioned more than a decade years ago when they created the event: two identical boats crewed by amateur sailors blasting downwind, each with their eye on first place.

On the second day of the event Eastern Yacht Club had the lead around the top mark, but the San Francisco Yacht Club crew, always at home in some breeze, was looking for any opening to take over the lead. It would come down to the final gybe before a long port-tack run to the finish.
 
“We both didn’t have great jibes,” said Sean Bennett, the skipper of the San Francisco crew. “But we had a little better gybe than they did and we were able to fill and get going. Both of us were still in the late-main gybe mode, that flipped them over harder than us so we were able to get just enough ahead on them to get over the top of them and get by.”

Aerial shot of an American yacht gybing the kite.
Eastern Yacht Club and San Francisco Yacht Club both struggled with their gybes in the final race of the day. Pic – ROLEX/Daniel Forster

Of course, that wasn’t the end of the story. A drop in the windspeed or a slight shift to the left would’ve forced both boats to gybe again and allowed Eastern skipper Bill Lynn to repay the favour. But the breeze held and The San Francisco Yacht Club took its first win of the regatta, capping off a marked improvement over day one and putting the team within range of the podium with six races remaining.

Coming in third in that race was Southern Yacht Club, which had the best day on the water and vaulted into the lead with 21 points. Royal Thames Yacht Club and Royal Cork Yacht Club are tied for second, 9 points back. 

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 48 of the world’s most prestigious yacht clubs from 21 countries. After five editions in the Swan 42 class, the 2021 event will be the second 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 until Saturday, September 18.

Four US boats and one Canadian boat on a kite run.
Many foreign teams were unable to make the event due to the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing more American teams to participate. Pic – ROLEX/Daniel Forster

The San Francisco Yacht Club was one of the teams that stepped in to fill the slots that opened when a handful of foreign teams were unable to travel due to COVID restrictions. Among the many challenges, was finding the time to practice together, ideally in an IC37. San Francisco’s team is loaded with talent, but Bennett says they’re still very much in learning mode in the IC37.

“We’re getting more comfortable with the boat,” said Bennett. “It’s the first time we’ve raced it. Yesterday, in the bump, we struggled more trying to understand how to make the boat go fast.

San Francisco Yacht Club sailing on a kite run.
San Francisco Yacht Club are coming seventh overall. Pic – ROLEX/Daniel Forster

“Today [was better] with the flatter water, a little more breeze on, which helps San Francisco people anyway. But we’ve generally been on a steeper learning curve in the light spots, and we’re getting better understanding how to make big adjustments when the wind drops off.”

With a second, 11th and first today, the SFYC team is now seventh overall. Despite missing out on the win in the final race, Eastern Yacht Club had a very strong day and is tied for fourth, two points out of second.

But the boat of the day went to Southern Yacht Club, with a fourth, first and third.

“Basically it was our teamwork,” said Lovell, a four-time Olympian who won a silver medal in 2004. “Marcus [Eagan] did an incredible job with tactics. Rick [Merriman] was playing the main. Andrew [Eagan] was trimming the jib, and the team was really clicking today. I think mainly we just didn’t make any big mistakes. We got off the line with clean starts, didn’t miss any shifts and had great boat handling.”
  

Aerial shot of top marks: some boats sailing upwind, other boats have rounded the mark and have hoisted their spinnaker's.
Nineteen yachts are competing in the event. Pic – ROLEX/Daniel Forster

This is Lovell’s third Invitational Cup. He called tactics when Southern won in 2017 and finished fifth in 2019. He’s especially pleased to be on the helm this time around.

“It’s been great, really enjoying it,” he said. “It’s actually a little less stressful to be driving than doing tactics in a way.

“I tried to look around a few times [today], and I got told I’m the driver, I just need to drive fast. That’s what I’ve been concentrating on, just driving the boat as fast as I can drive it. Everyone’s got their job and everyone does their job well, then the team does well.”

Yacht Club Argentino wasn’t able to move up in the overall standings, but the event’s lone Southern Hemisphere team still found reason for optimism as it closed the first half of the regatta with a seventh.

Aerial shot of Yacht Club Argentino sailing upwind.
Yacht Club Argentino are coming 15th overall. Pic – ROLEX/Daniel Forster

“The last race today was the windiest one, we could sail as fast as we wanted to,” said skipper Emilio Miguel. “Honestly, compared to the rest of the fleet, we weren’t slow. Even yesterday, I think we were fast. We made a lot of unforced errors. Yesterday, for example, in the second race, we could’ve been first or second to the first mark. We ended up third, and then we were penalised and it was a disaster, it all went down from there.”

In today’s first race, they passed seven boats on the final run, and then put it together for a top 10 result in the third race.
 
“The last race was our best result yet, a seventh,” he said. “So we’re pumped for tomorrow.”

Day two provisional results:

1. Southern Yacht Club, Boat 3, USA, 1, 10, 2, 4, 1, 3; 21
2. Royal Thames Yacht Club, Boat 10, GBR, 2, 2, 1, 8, 8, 9; 30
3. Royal Cork Yacht Club, Boat 13, IRL, 3, 3, 11, 1, 6, 6; 30 
4. New York Yacht Club, Boat 19, USA, 4, 1, 7, 3, 5, 12; 32 
5. Eastern Yacht Club, Boat 16, USA, 12*, 6, 4, 5, 3, 2; 32 
6. San Diego Yacht Club. Boat 17, USA, 12, 4, 5, 6, 12, 5; 44
7. The San Francisco Yacht Club, Boat 2, USA, 17, 7, 9, 2, 11, 1; 47
8. Royal Canadian Yacht Club, Boat 5, CAN, 13, 9, 16, 9, 2, 4; 53
9. Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, Boat 14, ITA, 7*, 12, 3, 16, 7, 8; 53
10. Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, Boat 15, CAN, 7, 5, 6, 7, 19, 17; 61
11. American Yacht Club, Boat 8, USA, 9*, 11, 8, 13*, 13, 16; 70
12. Royal Swedish Yacht Club, Boat 6, SWE, 10, 8, 18, 14, 9, 13; 72 
13. Noroton Yacht Club, Boat 7, USA, 15, 14, 10, 10, 14, 10; 73
14. Nylandska Jaktklubben, Boat 12, FIN, 6*, 18, 13, 15, 10, 12; 74
15. Yacht Club Argentino, Boat 9, ARG, 14, 13, 17, 11, 15, 7; 77
16. Yacht Club Italiano, Boat 18, ITA, 10*, 17, 12, 17, 16, 14; 86
17. Howth Yacht Club, Boat 4, IRL, 16, 16, 14, 13, 17, 11; 87
18. Itchenor Sailing Club, Boat 11, GBR, 19, 15, 15, 18, 4, 18; 89
19. Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, Boat 20, BER, 18, 19, 19, 19, 18, 19; 112
*Race score includes 1-point penalty for early extension of sprit

For the full results, see: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1WKOdR2sLePkWRWlGrUcOC3k-GKd7XjJS6vvO6b8e7tU/edit#gid=228235983

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