Andy Rose and the Next-Gen Match Racers

Former professional sailor Andy Rose is supporting the pipeline to attract and advance young match racing sailors.

Andy Rose at Balboa YC
Andy Rose at Balboa YC alongside the Governor’s Cup International Youth Match Racing Championship trophy.Paul Todd / Outside Images

One minute remains before the start of the Thursday night "beer can" race in Newport Beach, California. Andy Rose is the tactician on his own Andrews 49, It's OK!. The wind is funneling down the harbor at 10 knots as 20 boats jockey for position. The starting area is crowded and the adrenaline is running through the crew. As a guest in the back of the boat, I watch as Rose makes his calls.

We’re to windward of the starting line when Rose notes the wind is shifting to the left. With 25 seconds remaining, he calls for a dip start. Rope is spinning off the winches as the trimmers ease sheets and we bear away to sail below the line. With 5 seconds on the clock, Rose calls for a tack. The deck explodes with movement as crew sprint from one side to the other as we tack to port.

The starting horn sounds, and we cross the fleet on port tack. It was a brilliant maneuver by one of the greatest tacticians of our age. He smiles and tells ­everyone, “Nice start.”

Rose grew up sailing in Southern California in the 1960s. He raced frequently and had a knack for the game of match-racing tactics.

He won the Governor’s Cup Match Regatta hosted by Balboa Yacht YC in 1969 and 1970, the youngest to ever do so. He then teamed up with University of Southern California All-American, Argyle Campbell and won the

Congressional Cup in 1970 and 1972. They were young, bold and supremely talented match racers. Soon afterward, Rose was in high demand on the international yacht racing scene. He was the tactician on several of the hottest racing boats of the era, including Ondine, Blackfin, Kialoa and the Australian yacht Ballyhoo.

In 1977, Alan Bond challenged for the America’s Cup for a second time. Rose was tapped as the team’s tactician. The only issue was that Rose was an American and Bond was challenging on behalf of Australia.

At the time, there was no specific rule against having a non-national on a crew, but it wasn’t common practice during the 12-Meter era. Rose and his team won the Challenger trials against crews from Sweden, France and a second Australian challenger. I was the tactician on the American defender, Courageous, and we were pitted to battle on the sport’s biggest stage.

Rose was slim and trim and sported a signature dark mustache in the mold of singer Robert Goulet. He was a reveler onshore, but ruthless on the water. His match-race ­tactics were creative and unique, and he was one of the first sailors to understand the value of being aggressive in the prestart. He set a standard that was later used in the America’s Cup.

As with most Cup matches, the first race always arrives with great anticipation. No one truly knows which boat is going to be faster. About three days before the Cup, we were training off Newport, Rhode Island.

The Australians were sailing about a half-mile to leeward. We were instructed by the New York YC’s Cup Committee to stay away from the challengers, but I took bearings to compare our speed. Their speed edge was on my mind when we started Race 1 of the 1977 match.

Australia II had about a half-boatlength lead as its bow crossed the starting line. I could see Rose taking bearings on us. It took about 20 minutes for Courageous to establish a one-length lead because we were a little faster on the upwind legs. The Australians gained on the downwind legs but were never able to pass as the regatta progressed. Courageous won the series 4 to 0. In the process, Rose became a close friend.

I’d always been curious about how he felt when the Australians defeated Dennis Conner in the 1983 America’s Cup. He told me he remembers the moment well.

“I was very much rooting for them,” Rose says. “I’m a true American and I love my country, but I wore green and gold that day. I was proud to see them do it. That was magic, and it was a tremendous thing for the Cup.” Rose found his way into the Australian camp in 1974, at age 23. He was invited to Australia to coach the team on match racing. The syndicate’s leaders, Jim Hardy and John Bertrand, treated him well and listened to him, he says: “They wanted to learn. It was a great ego trip.”

In 1977, the Independence-Courageous Syndicate courted Rose to serve as tactician on Independence, but he never heard from them again. The Australians called and asked if he’d join them, but he declined. Months later, he reconsidered and called Alan Bond, asking if he could change his mind.

“Yes, when can you be here?” Bond said. Rose responded, “How about the red-eye plane tonight?” The next day, he stepped aboard the 12-Meter Australia.

Between his sailing gigs, Rose attended Stanford, then law school at the University of California, Davis. Today, Balboa Island in Newport Beach is his home base, but he travels extensively for sailing and works in the renewable energy business.

Rose's It's OK! is tied to the dock of his modest harbor-side home. It's a great set up for a sailor. The boat is 49.9 feet, which puts it just under the local weeknight series' 50-foot cutoff.

Once, when I was invited for a weeknight race, Rose invited about 20 or so teenagers to join the crew. The deck was a little crowded, but we still won the race. As I look back on that evening, winning wasn’t the biggest challenge. The more difficult part was avoiding all the small boats and ferries ­steaming around the harbor. Match racing and offshore sailing are important factors in Rose’s career. He got off to a fast start at a young age as the watch captain of the maxi, Blackfin. He was only 21 then, so he understands how important it is for young sailors to have opportunities.

The Balboa YC established the Governor’s Cup for junior sailors two years after the Long Beach YC started its Congressional Cup. Ronald Reagan, California’s governor at the time, signed the Deed of Gift for the junior match-race regatta. In 2014, Rose led a group of yacht club members in commissioning a new fleet of 22-foot sloops for the Governor’s Cup. Alan Andrews designed the new boat, which performs well in the area’s prevailing light to moderate winds. This special regatta had a profound effect on Rose’s career—which explains why he works hard to make sure it continues to thrive. Raising the funds to build a 16-boat fleet is a big project.

Rose is a persuasive person and is generous himself. At the 50th Anniversary Governor’s Cup, he arranged to have the Congressional Cup trophy and the America’s Cup itself sitting on a table next to the Governor’s Cup, an oversized bowl atop a massive wooden base. Rose says he’s embarrassed by the audacious size of the trophy that bears his name, but standing waist high, it’s a fitting tribute to a man who has accomplished so much and is credited with replenishing the next generation of traditional match-racing sailors.

As the young competitors studied the trophies, Rose sat to the side watching with a slight smile of satisfaction.