Sparking a Resurgence in Racing

Published on September 5th, 2017

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 12 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 to race in the ultimate one-design, big-boat competition. The playing field is level – boats and sails are provided and the rig tune is standardized across the fleet.

“[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.

Andy Herlihy

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. 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, 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. 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.

“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.

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The Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup is a biennial competition between yacht clubs, with strict eligibility rules ensuring that each team is comprised almost exclusively of amateur sailors who are members of the club they represent.

The competition, which was first run in 2009, has drawn entries from 43 clubs from 21 nations on all six inhabited continents. The New York Yacht Club won the inaugural event in 2009, with the Royal Canadian Yacht Club winning in 2011 and 2013 and England’s Royal Thames Yacht Club winning in 2015. The berths allocated for United States clubs are decided at the U.S. Qualifying Series regatta, which is held on even years in smaller boats.

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.

The following yacht clubs will compete for the 2017 Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup: Eastern Yacht Club (Marblehead, Mass.), Itchenor (GBR) Sailing Club, Japan Sailing Federation, New Bedford Yacht Club (South Dartmouth, Mass.), New York Yacht Club, Royal Cork (IRL) Yacht Club, Royal Danish Yacht Club, Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, Royal Swedish Yacht Club, Royal Sydney (AUS) Yacht Squadron, Royal Thames (GBR) Yacht Club, Royal (GBR) Yacht Squadron, Shelter Island (N.Y.) Yacht Club, Southern (New Orleans) Yacht Club, Yacht Club Argentino.

Source: Stuart Streuli, NYYC

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