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2015 Invitational Cup Wrap Up: Third Time's the Charm for Royal Thames YC

RTYC Winners IC15 DF web

September in New England offers some of the best sailing weather of the year – and so it was last week in Newport, Rhode Island, a favorite venue among sailors worldwide. With its’ rich history of America’s Cup racing and, more recently, with the New York Yacht Club at Harbour Court hosting a number of iconic races, including the 2015 Transatlantic Race, the 175th Annual Regatta, and the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup – the club is a centerpiece of yacht racing activity.

The Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup is a biennial event hosted by the New York Yacht Club. First held in 2009, the event was created to revive the tradition of Corinthian competition between yacht clubs; and combines intense racing with a convivial social spirit. The crew composition is strictly limited to amateur (non-professional) sailors. This promotion of Corinthian sailing, which rewards preparation, teamwork and tactical expertise, aligns perfectly with the core values of Rolex, title sponsor of the event, and partner of New York Yacht Club. The event forms a proud part of Rolex’s association with yachting and the world’s most prestigious yacht clubs. The final results can be found here.

Rolex’s seminal partnership with the New York Yacht Club is the brand’s oldest in yachting, spanning more than half a century. This prestigious yacht club – with clubhouses in New York City and Newport, Rhode Island – is considered one of the pre-eminent clubs and has played a significant role in the world of yacht racing since its inception in 1844.

This year the New York Yacht Club welcomed 17 teams from 11 countries for the week-long event: Japan Sailing Federation, Real Club Náutico de Barcelona from Spain; Royal Canadian Yacht Club; Royal Cork Yacht Club, Ireland; Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club; the Royal Yacht Squadron, Royal Thames Yacht Club, and Itchenor Sailing Club from England; Yacht Club Argentino; Yacht Club Italiano; Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club and Middle Harbour Yacht Club, from Australia; Royal Swedish Yacht Club; and Eastern Yacht Club, Newport Harbor Yacht Club, Seattle Yacht Club and New York Yacht Club, from the United States.

A testament to an event formula that seems to work, seven teams returned for the fourth time, while all of the others – save one – were repeat competitors. The Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, one of the veteran teams, was keen to return for the fourth edition, despite the complex logistics required in fielding a team from halfway around the world. Crewmember Nick Burns declared it the best regatta in the world and cited: ” Having an even playing field, having all the boats, and all the gear the same, so the only thing you can blame is yourself, if things go wrong. And also having it Corinthian; it doesn’t matter how much money you have, you can’t buy a professional crew; you have to actually rely on yourselves.”

The lone new team, Middle Harbour Yacht Club, which hails from Mosman, Australia, just north of Sydney, came with an impressive resume – led by skipper Guido Belgiorno-Nettis, an experienced Farr 40 sailor and the 2011 Rolex Farr 40 World Champion, and his skilled crew gleaned from his Farr 40 program.

The boats used for racing are New York Yacht Club Swan 42s – the eighth one-design class created by the club since 1900. These 42-footers are identical; sails and running rigging are provided; and the boats are identically equipped. The yacht club enlists a professional technical team to ensure that all elements are equal. Thus, no team has an equipment edge, which was evidenced once again, by the extremely close racing.

Over the five days of racing, the New York Yacht Club Race Committee dealt with changeable weather conditions and ran 12 races which, depending on the day’s forecast, were held on Narragansett Bay or offshore on Rhode Island Sound, near the famed America’s Cup course. The breeze varied throughout the week, but was mostly in the 8 – 15 knot range. Racing ‘inside’ on Narragansett Bay was more tidal driven and gave tacticians another element with which to gain or lose an edge. With the level of competitors so evenly matched, especially in the top half of the fleet, getting a good start was key. Any team that missed getting off the line and got forced to the wrong direction on the first leg, spent the rest of the race trying to catch up.

Day one racing took place on Rhode Island Sound. The Japan Sailing Federation took the first win and then followed with a 15th in the second race. They wouldn’t be the first to post a range of scores – putting in consistent finishes would prove to be a familiar challenge for many competitors. Middle Harbour Yacht Club seemingly found their footing in the ‘new to them’ Swan 42, and took a win in race two. Though at day’s end, it was the Royal Thames Yacht Club, with John Greenland at the helm, which put their stake in the ground and were on top with finishes of 5-2-4.

Ashore each afternoon post-racing, sailors enjoyed Harbour Court’s expansive waterfront property and mingled under the marquee to enjoy food and drink, watch video highlights, and recap the day’s racing with friends and competitors

On the second day, the breeze was slow to fill and allowed only one race to be completed; one in which the Leonardo Ferragamo-led Yacht Club Italiano team employed their light air skills, honed off their homeport of Genoa, Italy, to prevail.

With the sea breeze back in on day three, three races were run which resulted in another shake up of the leaderboard. Ireland’s Royal Cork Yacht Club, helmed by Anthony O’Leary with tactician, and son, Nicholas O’Leary, saw their way to the front of the fleet in race five, while the Australians from Middle Harbour continued to impress, posting two wins which boosted them from 10th to second place overall. Meanwhile, Royal Thames solidified their lead by sailing another consistent day.

On Friday, New England’s famous fog rolled in and reduced visibility on R. I. Sound; after a short postponement, the fleet was sent up Narragansett Bay for Races 8 - 10. Two of the American teams, Eastern Yacht Club and New York Yacht Club finally found their gears – and consistency – with both posting strong scores which moved them up from mid-fleet to second and fourth overall respectively.

By the penultimate day of racing, Royal Thames Yacht Club had a nine-point lead over Eastern Yacht Club, with Seattle Yacht Club a further three points behind Eastern. But Royal Thames’ lead was not unassailable – in this fleet, where three-fourths of the teams had top-three finishes, there were any number of potential spoilers.

Newport loves tradition and the final race day began with a Parade of Nations: each of the boats motor-sailed clockwise around Newport harbor, with the teams lined up smartly on the rail, followed by support boats of race committee, fans and volunteers. Around the harbor, numerous canon salutes and horns greeted the international fleet, with a final canon fired for each yacht as they passed the New York Yacht Club’s dock at Harbour Court.

The final two races were nail bitters: in Race 11, an eighth-place finish by Royal Thames and New York Yacht Club’s fourth place, put the leaders’ nine-point cushion under pressure. In the 12th and final race of the series, Royal Thames finished 10th, but managed to hold off both Eastern and New York. Eastern’s 12th place allowed New York to slide up to second overall, one point ahead of Eastern in third place, and Middle Harbour in fourth – the final standings turning on the last race.

Dockside, Royal Thames’ John Greenland offered, “We didn’t make it very easy for ourselves throughout the day. At one point in the first race we almost sailed ourselves into a really comfortable position. Instead it turned inside out. But that’s how the fleet has been all week. You just have to take each race as it comes. It’s a great conclusion to years of preparation…everyone is over the moon.”

The proof of the tough competition was in the final accounting: in 12 races, eight different teams had a first-place finish. But overall winner Royal Thames Yacht Club proved that consistency was the key component. While they had no first-place finishes, they did have 10 top-ten finishes and nothing worse than an 11th. In a regatta with no throw-outs, this would prove a winning formula.

Paul Zabetakis, skipper of New York Yacht Club’s team, has competed in the Mumm 36 and Farr 40 Worlds, and Key West Race Week, in addition to campaigning his Swan 42. He summed up the uniqueness of the event: “This regatta has no equal. The other races, there were always pros involved. I think it’s a phenomenal tribute to New York Yacht Club who put this together, and these amateur teams that come together to do this. It’s the most competitive racing I’ve ever done.”

With Rolex’s early and enduring association with the New York Yacht Club, the brand became integrated into the heart of sailing excellence – and went on to partner with the sport’s most elite clubs in order to support some of the most admired races in the world of yachting and uphold the highest values of the sport. Not surprisingly several of these were clubs were among the highly competitive fleet at the Rolex NYYC Invitational Cup: Royal Yacht Squadron (Rolex Fastnet Race), Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (Rolex China Sea Race), and Yacht Club Italiano (Giraglia Rolex Cup).

The prizegiving dinner – a fête enjoyed by 450 guests, including competitors, race officials, and New York Yacht Club members – was held in a spectacular burgee-festooned marquee overlooking Newport Harbor on a beautiful fall night under a star-filled sky. Each of the 17 teams was introduced and came on stage for a team photo, followed by awards to the top three finishers. Finally, the New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup trophy and a specially engraved Rolex timepiece were presented to a rightfully exuberant overall winner, the Royal Thames Yacht Club.

Look for them to return as fitting defenders in September 2017!