NEWPORT, R.I. — Sometimes, it takes more than a study of the past to remind an organization what it once was. The New Bedford Yacht Club, which was founded in 1877 in what was then one of the world's wealthiest port towns and is now located in South Dartmouth, Mass., has always been about boating. But recently, the Club's long history in competitive yachting, particularly in major regional and national events, has faded from the forefront of the collective mind of the membership.
Nearly five years ago, the club launched a campaign for the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup with the aim of sparking a resurgence in racing sailboats at a high level. The early returns have been promising, says syndicate manager Arthur Burke, but the biggest test is just around the corner.
The fifth edition of the biennial Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup will take 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 will converge 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 will be broadcast live via the web.
"[New Bedford Yacht Club] is a very old, traditional club with a long, illustrious history," says Burke. "Recently, the last 10 to 15 years, there's been a sense among the older sailors that we're losing a little bit of our identity and our mission. We now have a great group of young sailors; this quest has been something to get back to who we were, maintain our reputation, reinvigorate us from a sailing perspective, remind us of what we should be about. It's something we feel we should be doing, at this level."
New Bedford Yacht Club's push for the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup started in 2013, when it applied to compete in the Resolute Cup, which is held on even years and is the sole automatic pathway for American yacht clubs looking to qualify for the big show. Led by former collegiate All-America selection Andy Herlihy, New Bedford Yacht Club acquitted itself well, with a fourth in 2014 and a sixth in 2016 (top photo). But neither finish was quite good enough to earn an automatic berth to the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup.
A discretionary invitation ultimately arrived a few months ago. While many clubs might've looked at the tight schedule and the daunting fund-raising challenge and begged off, New Bedford Yacht Club didn't hesitate to say "yes".
"Everyone's super psyched," says Herlihy, at left, a product of the NBYC youth program and the executive director of New Bedford Community Boating. "The club's done a lot over the past couple years to really build momentum. We're getting a lot of enthusiasm around racing at the club through the Resolute Cup and some team racing. An invitation to compete at the level of the Invitational Cup is very exciting."
The club chartered a Swan 42 for the month of August, keeping the boat on a mooring right off the clubhouse in picturesque Padanaram Harbor. The team has put in the time necessary to get familiar with the mechanics of the boat, but Herlihy acknowledges the team's lack of race experience in the Swan 42 means it will be a bit of an unknown quantity coming into the regatta.
"I think [success in this regatta] is always tied into time in the boat," he says. "We've had access to Migration here for a few weeks. But we've been sailing by ourselves. It's good to get the team working together, but it's hard [to know how you stand relative to other teams] when you're out there doing reps by yourself."
What is certain, however, is the on-site support the team will have once the racing starts on Rhode Island Sound or Narragansett Bay on Tuesday, Sept. 12. New Bedford Yacht Club is less than 25 miles as the crow files from Newport. For the 2014 and 2016 Resolute Cup regattas, the club took full advantage of its proximity and had, without a doubt, the largest and loudest fan base on the water for both events. If anything, the on-site support for this regatta will be even larger.
"I've been a part of our two Resolute Cup campaigns," says Herlihy, "and the sheer volume of support boats that show up for the event from the NBYC is phenomenal."
All that's left is to give them something to cheer about.
Photo credits: Paul Todd/OutsideImages.co.nz, Courtesy of New Bedford Yacht Club