Anthony O'Leary's crew are all set for tomorrow's start of the New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup as sole Irish crew representing Royal Cork Yacht Club in the Big Apple.
The grounds of New York Yacht Club's renowned Harbour Court clubhouse in Newport, Rhode Island, were filled with sailors from around the world, who are set to begin racing tomorrow in the second biennial Invitational Cup presented by Rolex.
The 22 teams, representing yacht clubs from 16 nations and six continents, have traveled far and wide to get to Newport. The teams, especially those less familiar with the Swan 42 class, enjoyed several perfect practice days with today's 12-14 knot southwesterly breeze, under sunshine and brilliant blue skies, appreciated by all competitors, especially those from some more sunshine-challenged locales
The Swan 42s, an ultra competitive one-design class, were conceived by the NYYC as the yacht club's ninth one-design class since its' founding in 1844. The New York Yacht Club Race Committee, led by John "Tinker" Myles, Jr. ran several practice starts today for the fleet.
Racing will run from Tuesday, 13 September through Saturday, 17 September. A total of eleven (windward-leeward) races are planned, with no throw-outs. Racing will take place off Newport, R.I. on Rhode Island Sound or in Narragansett Bay.
One of the first teams to arrive in Newport was Clube Naval de Cascais from Portugal, with skipper Patrick Moteiro de Barros. The team has been on-site for over a week practicing on their chartered Swan 42 Orbit, and making the most of coach Bill Shore's expertise and local knowledge. de Barros commented, "The goal is to do the best we can, and we're here to win. We may not win, but that's the motivation."
To that end de Barros, who is a four-time Olympian, has assembled a crew that at its' core are very competitive Dragon sailors. Included in this mix is tactician Henrique Anjos, a three-time Portuguese national champion in the class. With no Swan 42s available locally, the team came up with a clever alternative last spring, chartering a Dufour 40, and adding a bowsprit to it so they could fly an asymetrical spinnaker.
De Barros is no stranger to Newport, having sailed here in the 1980s when he was the helmsman on Magic, the trial horse for Dennis Conner's Freedom. The team had hoped to participate two years ago, but couldn't come, and the appeal of the event is clear to de Barros who added, "The Invitational Cup is totally Corinthian, and I think it's important to have events where the amateurs are recognized. This is one of the most prestigious yacht clubs in the world, and I think events like this should carry on."
From further afield is the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club team with skipper Nick Burns. Sailing onboard is Jochim Isler, Vice Commodore of the club and a frequent competitor in the RHKYC's signature biennial Rolex China Sea Race. As with many of the other clubs, the teams experience is in a mix of big boats and one-designs, in this case Etchells. Burns and Isler often compete against each other, but they've solidified their strengths as well as recruited 10 of the top 20 sailors in the club for the team.
In the 2009 event, Royal Hong Kong finished 11th; but last summer they sailed in the Rolex Commodore's Cup and finished second, which Isler said gave them the confidence and motivation to give it a try again.
Burns added, "We came a long way for this, it's great. The event is tightening up (rules) year-by-year, which is what you need. They're doing a very equal job with the boats, it's a very good system. You have nothing to blame but yourself!"
One of the Southern hemisphere teams competing is the Yacht Club Argentino with Paolo Cosentino as helmsman. YCA Commodore Ricardo Galarce is racing onboard as trimmer, and the two were clearly delighted to be here, "This is our first visit and I tell you we are amazed, we want to live here, we're going to stay here."
Cosentino said, "We sail two boats that are similar (a Frers 44 and a Soto 43). We trained about 10 days in Buenos Aires (in the river) and Mar del Plata, where you can sail in the sea. We feel comfortable, but need to train a little more – we've had these three days here, so we'll arrive tomorrow at about 80% of our standard.
"For us we are very proud of being invited by this club. We have a lot of tradition also, our club is almost 130 years old and for us being here is a very special situation – we are very proud."
For NYYC Invitational Cup Event Chairman, John Mendez tomorrow's start couldn't come soon enough, "I'm absolutely delighted. To be honest it's been a long build-up, it's been two years getting this going and to see all of the teams arrive and to meet with them – their excitement and enthusiasm -- has really set this off for me. I feel a lot more relaxed about the whole event!"
About half of the yacht club teams that competed in 2009 are back again, including the top five. Mendez continued, "We still have a lot of interest from yacht clubs that are not here and as this has grown they'll be a lot more who'll want to participate next time. I see the competition this time being stiffer than last time – it has been raised to another level. I think we'll see some exciting racing.
"This is key to each one of these clubs – they all have the intention of taking the trophy back with them. I'm afraid we can't cut it into pieces! But, I could see the trophy leaving our shores at the end of the week."
This edition features a couple of significant changes including a move to all-amateur sailors (no professionals) and on-the-water umpiring. Of the latter Mendez points out, "That's a very big leap forward for fleet racing. We want people to sail safely and the umpiring is definitely going to help that."
In addition to Rolex, which for 2011 and 2013 is the presenting sponsor, Sperry Top-Sider and Nautor's Swan have also returned, and are joined by Atlantis WeatherGear, as sponsors to enhance the experience of competitors as well as those who will be following the races.
The 22 entrants
By country, the roster of participating teams is: Yacht Club Argentino (ARG); Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (AUS); Royal Bermuda Yacht Club (BER); Royal Canadian Yacht Club (CAN); Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (CHN); Real Club Nautico de Barcelona (ESP); Nyländska Jaktklubben (FIN); Itchenor Sailing Club, Royal Ocean Racing Club and Royal Yacht Squadron (GBR); Norddeutscher Regatta Verein (GER); Royal Cork Yacht Club (IRL); Yacht Club Capri and Yacht Club Punta Ala (ITA); Japan Sailing Federation (JPN); Royal Norwegian Yacht Club (NOR); Clube Naval de Cascais (POR); Royal Cape Yacht Club (RSA); Eastern Yacht Club, Annapolis Yacht Club, Newport Harbor Yacht Club and New York Yacht Club (USA)