In yachting circles, Newport, R.I., The City by the Sea, needs no introduction. Its deep natural harbor and easy access to open-ocean racecourses make it an ideal venue for all types of competitive sailing, even in the dead of winter.
Its history is vast and storied; from the earliest days of maritime commerce, to the heyday of the 12-Meter America’s Cup and great ocean races that would come and go, leaving behind their legacies. These legacies persevere today, and the fervor of sailing in Newport has never waned. Sailing is thriving in this waterborne city, and the New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup regatta, which will be run out of the club’s stately Harbour Court, is in good historic company.
“I thought that since the loss of the America’s Cup, the club did not have a marquee international event,” says current commodore David Elwell. “That was the initial concept, to come up with something that would be international in nature and have the type of luster you would want for a New York Yacht Club event.”
When the club says “international,” it means more than simply a token yacht club or two from across the northern border. The event committee spun the globe looking for the most highly regarded yacht clubs. “We were looking at clubs closely associated with the New York Yacht Club’s tradition of Corinthian sailing,” says club trustee Chris Culver. “If you look at the clubs involved, many of them date back to the 1700s or 1800s.” The response has been just as the club hoped, 19 entries from 14 countries including Japan, New Zealand, and Finland.
As the New York Yacht Club did more than 130 years ago with the deed for the America’s Cup, the aim is for the Invitational to be a friendly contest between yacht clubs. With all the evidence at hand of how the former competition has moved beyond those original ideals-for better or worse-the rules governing the Invitational are a little more detailed.
All but two of the crew-NYYC Swan 42s usually race with between nine and 11 people-must have been members of the sponsoring club at the date of the initial invitation, Aug. 25, 2008. The same number must also hold a passport from the yacht club’s country of origin.
Equally as important is that the sailors are amateurs. Teams will be restricted to just one Category 3, or professional sailor, per boat. With professional sailors so entrenched in so many international classes and championships, the founders of the event felt it was time to return sailing to its Corinthian roots. “I think it’s taking a step forward,” says Culver. “If you look at what the pros are doing in their own circuit, there is this void that this event can fill. Look at the kinds of amateurs around the world: there are Olympic-class sailors and world champions, all with amateur status. I think that the future of our sport has to be driving competition at this Corinthian level. The pros don’t get to be pros overnight, they start as Corinthians.”
Another essential aspect of the Invitational Cup is the one-design nature of the competition. Nineteen NYYC Swan 42s will be used for the regatta, and the rig tuning on each boat will be standardized. Additionally, the club has purchased 19 identical sets of sails-main, all-purpose jib, and spinnaker-for the regatta. These measures, says Elwell, were important to assure boat owners that their boats would be made even as much as possible.
But they will also ensure the closest possible competition, with each race decided by boatspeed, tactics, strategy, and boathandling. “This regatta is going to be won by the best team on the water,” says Culver.
What about the water? September can be a glorious month for sailing off Newport. The wind and water are still warm and the seabreeze somewhat regular-just as in mid-summer-but strong winds are not unheard of. In short, it’s the sort of variety that makes for a great regatta and produces a worthy champion.
Bruno Trouble is no stranger to racing in Newport. In the 1970s and 1980s, he helmed Baron Bic’s French challenges for the America’s Cup. Through the 32nd America’s Cup in 2007, Trouble linked Cup sailing and longtime sponsor Louis Vuitton. The affable Frenchman jumped at the chance to bring an amateur team from the Yacht Club de France to participate in the Invitational Cup. “Sailing is fully professional at the top level and we need events where the quality of racing is amazing without any professional sailors around,” he says. “It is important for us to come and fly our colors, even if we will come with no training.”
Phil Lotz’s crew, which topped three other New York Yacht Club teams in a two-stage trial, will represent the host club. His experience in the class-he’s had Arethusa for three years and prepped for this summer with a long southern tour to Annapolis, Key West, and the Caribbean-and sailing around Newport should make the New York Yacht Club entry one of the favorites for the first Invitational Cup.
But with a lot of what he and his team have learned about tuning the NYYC Swan 42 nullified by the one-design sails and the prohibitions against rig adjustment, his advantage isn’t nearly what it could be.
Whether the home team finishes first or last on the water, Elwell says the New York Yacht Club has already won. “We announced the event prior to the economy taking a nosedive, and there were times we had discussions as to whether to postpone it,” he says. “We decided to go ahead with it. To get 19 teams in this economy, is a home run.”
Plus, he adds, the club learned something else from its 132 years as the steward of the America’s Cup. No matter which yacht club wins the event, the trophy won’t move. And the second New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup will be back in Newport in 2011.