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Southern Yacht Club Within One Race of Winning the 2017 Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup

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NEWPORT, R.I. — Day 4 of the 2017 Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup was the sort of day when things can and do go wrong. The racing was held inside Narragansett Bay in a shifty southerly breeze with thick fog bank hovering on the windward edge of the course and occasionally working to leeward of the windward mark. Both of the leading boats had moments of doubt. Both showed their mettle with impressive comebacks and were the top two boats on the day. With one race remaining, Southern Yacht Club has a commanding—but still surmountable—8-point lead over Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. With third a further 22 points in arrears, the battle for first is officially down to two boats.

The 2017 Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup takes place September 9 to 16 at the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court, in Newport, R.I. Amateur sailors representing 14 yacht clubs from around the globe have converged on Newport to race in the ultimate one-design, big-boat competition. The boats and sails are provided and the rig tune is standardized across the fleet. The Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup is sponsored by Rolex, Porsche, Nautor’s Swan, AIG and Helly Hansen and is broadcast live via the web.

Competitors throughout the fleet have noted how even the boats are this regatta. Mistakes, especially off the starting line or early in the first beat can be extremely costly. Recovering from them requires a lot of skill. A little bit of luck never hurts, either.

Watermarked22017 09 15 1441"Two-thirds of the way [up the first beat of the second race] we were looking really sketchy," said Royal Sydney tactician Michael Dunstan. "Then the fog came in, and we didn’t have any idea what was going on, and we were on the opposite side of the local team, which was a bit concerning. But the shifts played our way at that last bit, and we got lucky."

Dunstan might be a shade modest in his assessment. Even the one team ahead of them in the overall standings has noticed Royal Sydney's superlative speed, which has resulted in five race wins in 11 races.

"They’re going fast," said Southern helmsman Marcus Eagan. "They’re great at what they do, [Guido Belgiorno-Nettis] is a great sailor, they’re a great team and I have tremendous respect for the way they’re sailing. Hopefully we can continue to be right on their tail tomorrow, and I’ll be happy."

According to Eagan, Southern's success in this regatta—to call it surprising would be to ignore the way Eagan and company dominated the Resolute Cup last year—has a lot to do with a very patient approach. In Race 2 today, the Southern team got squeezed out shortly after the start and had to tack and head to the right side of the track while those that could stuck to the left. It looked dire, but they quickly flipped that script.

"We did not have a good start in the second race today, we tacked on the port pretty quick and just tried to get the boat moving as fast as possible and hit our targets," said Eagan. "It seems like in this fleet, clear air is king and once you get it you separate into that front half and then from there you pick people off. But clear air and hitting targets are the big thing in the first of the quarter of a mile of the beat."

In general, Eagan added, the Southern Yacht Club has favored a very conservative strategy this event. Of course, that's easier said than done.

"You just put odds on everything," said Eagan. "If you want the left side, you don’t necessarily have to win the pin, you just start toward that end, as long as you have the clear air. That’s kind of the way we do it. And if boats are close, we definitely don’t risk it, we always go for the duck. Keeping maneuvers to a minimum, I think that helps quite a bit too."

Watermarked12017 09 15 1433For the second straight day, the most active team in the overall standings was the New York Yacht Club. With a fourth and a second, the home team went from sixth to fourth, with a three-point cushion over fifth and a nine-point deficit to third. It's been quite a turnaround for John Hele's crew on Daring, which was 11th after the first two days of racing.

"We got much better starts [the last two days]," said Hele, who is sailing in his fifth Invitational Cup. "In this fleet, if you’re not in the front of the starting line, you’re in a whole different league. We’ve had great boatspeed and Brad picked the right way to go.

"This is the best fleet of Swan 42 helms and tacticians that we’ve ever had. This is the most competitive Invitational Cup. It's really something to get off the line well, but we did it today, and it really paid off. So we are happy and looking forward to tomorrow."

So is the rest of the fleet. There's one race left to go and then the Rolex Awards Dinner at Harbour Court tomorrow evening will bring the fifth edition of this Corinthian classic to a close.

Photos: ROLEX/Daniel Forster