Once Teammates, Now Opponents
Published on September 6th, 2017
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.
For John Lovell and Amanda Clark, teammates on the U.S. Sailing Team that competed in the Beijing 2008 Olympics, they will be on opposite sides next week as they represent Southern Yacht Club and Shelter Island Yacht Club for each club’s first attempt at the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup.
After retiring from Olympic competition, both sailors returned to their respective hometowns to raise families and pursue non-sailing careers, but are now eager to do well for their clubs.
“I am really looking forward to racing with my Shelter Island Yacht Club in the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup,” said Clark, who represented the USA in the 470 in two Olympic Games. “The club and its members did so much for supporting my Olympic sailing endeavors, I am honored give back and get involved.”
Paul McDowell, Shelter Island Yacht Club’s helmsman and one of the owners of the successful Mills 68 Prospector syndicate, welcomed the opportunity to compete in the event. “The Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup is probably the premier Corinthian regatta in the world, and I was anxious to be a part of our team and help in any way I can. It’s an absolute honor for our club to be invited.”
Lovell, a silver medalist and four-time Olympian, has been a regular visitor to Harbour Court this summer. He sailed with the Southern Yacht Club team in July’s Swan 42 Nationals and also skippered for Southern’s entry in the Hinman Masters Team Race in August.
“I thoroughly enjoy all levels of racing,” says Lovell. “I have always been honored to represent Southern Yacht Club, and I am happy that [skipper Marcus Eagan] asked me to race with the team.”
Eagan earned Southern Yacht Club’s berth in the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup by winning the 2016 Resolute Cup, which is held on alternate years and provides a pathway for U.S. yacht clubs to qualify for the Rolex Invitational Cup.
The current challenge for Southern Yacht Club is to translate Eagan’s tremendous touch in small, planing dinghies—he was second in the 2013 Melges 20 World Championship—to the more technical and significantly heavier Swan 42.
“I have a great crew that is holding my hand and providing feedback to help me adjust to a different style of sailing,” said Eagan. “I guess I’ve changed [my sailing style] since in small boats I’m used to looking around and providing feedback to the tactician. In the Swan, I’m focused on boat speed and controlling momentum.”
The Southern Yacht Club team has committed fully—or at least as fully as a crew of Corinthian sailors can and still keep their respective day jobs—to the effort. The club purchased a Swan 42 and raced in the Annual Regatta presented by Rolex and the Swan 42 National Championships, in addition to numerous days of practice.
The combination of this preparation, Eagan’s skill as a helmsman and Lovell’s experience in big regattas could prove quite formidable. But the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup is a tricky animal, and has proven elusive for first-time competitors.
“The team is committed and dedicated to the goal, but since we are all Corinthians our time on the boat has been restricted due to many other work and family commitments,” said Eagan. “As a team I wish we had more time on the boat, but I think we took advantage of every opportunity to get on the water and improve.”
Lovell was asked what advice he might have for his teammates who hadn’t competed on this level previously. His response was just what you’d expect from a native of The Big Easy.
“First, enjoy the event,” he said. “Second, try not to think too much about all of the distractions and treat the racing as if it were a regular weekend event.”
Like Southern Yacht Club, the team from Shelter Island Yacht Club, which is located on the eponymous island between the North and South Forks of Eastern Long Island, has enjoyed access to a Swan 42 during the build up to the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup.
However, as of the Swan 42 National Championships in July, the club was still sorting out who would do what position. Clark, for one, isn’t concerned that this will negatively impact their performance.
“We’ve all raced with each other in different events,” she said. “I am not worried about our ability to work together.”
Shelter Island Yacht Club is one of the smallest clubs, if not the smallest, to ever challenge for the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup. But buoyed by the experience of Clark, McDowell and others who have sailed at the top levels of the sport, they won’t be cowed.
“I sort of like the David and Goliath aspect to being the smallest club,” says McDowell. “We have some really terrific sailors, and this gives us a chance to show that on a larger stage. The club membership has been tremendously supportive of the effort, with many sailors volunteering to be a part of the team both on and off the water. The membership has also stepped up financially to help get us to the starting line.”
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 playing field is level – boats (Swan 42s) and sails are provided and the rig tune is standardized across the fleet.
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 on Facebook.
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