Twenty-two U.S. yacht clubs seek to qualify for Corinthian championship

Published on September 2nd, 2014

Newport, RI (September 2, 2014) – With any unique competition, previous experience is often invaluable. So when looking for favorites in the 2014 U.S. Qualifying Series (USQS) for the New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup presented by Rolex, which starts tomorrow out of the New York Yacht Club at Harbour Court, in Newport, R.I., it makes sense to start with the teams that have participated, and done well, in previous editions of the biennial regatta.

The top three teams earn an invitation to the fourth biennial Invitational Cup to be held September 12-19, 2015. The Invitational Cup is a premier Corinthian sailing competition for yacht clubs from around the world. The racing is in NYYC Swan 42s, the eighth one-design class created by the New York Yacht Club since 1900.

Hovering near the top of the list of 22 teams is The San Francisco Yacht Club team, which is led by two-time USQS skipper Shawn Bennett and former America’s Cup sailor Melissa Feagin. In 2012, Bennett and Feagin helped the SFYC team to a third-place finish and a berth in the 2013 Invitational Cup, where the club finished 13th.

“I think it’s really going to be about consistency for us,” says Bennett. “We’re going to try to get ourselves into the gold fleet with consistency in [the Sonar and J/70, the two fleets utilized for the USQS] and then see what we can do.”

One factor that may make consistency more of a challenge than it was two years ago is other competitors’ familiarity with the J/70. In 2012, the 22-foot J/70 design was in its infancy. It is now one of the hottest-selling keelboats in the world, with over 600 built. Some of the competitors in the USQS will sail in the class’s inaugural world championship the following week, also hosted out of Harbour Court.

“Last time, it was interesting because nobody had sailed the J/70s before,” says Bennett, “and this time some teams are clearly going to have more experience in those boats. I haven’t sailed them at all since 2012.”

Still, the SFYC team’s familiarity with the race area and the short-course, small-fleet nature of the competition, which favors quick thinking and fleet management over boatspeed and big-picture strategy, should keep it in contention. Other returning teams of note include Seattle Yacht Club, which placed second in 2012, Eastern (Marblehead, Mass.) Yacht Club, which won the inaugural USQS in 2010 and Newport Harbor (Calif.) Yacht Club, which placed third in 2010 and fourth in 2012.

On the other side of the coin is the self-proclaimed dark-horse team from Harbor Island Yacht Club, on Old Hickory Lake, outside of Nashville, Tenn.

“Anthony Passafiume and I were sitting at the yacht club one day and said we’d really like to do some national sailing,” says tactician Steve LeMay. “So we sent in a resume to the USQS and a few weeks later we received an invitation.”

While Tennessee isn’t known for its major bodies of water, LeMay says sailing is quite strong in the Volunteer State. “We’ve got a lot of good Lightning sailors, and we sponsor a national Lightning regatta every year called the Blue Nose Regatta,” says LeMay. “We also have a strong Laser fleet.”

Without previous USQS experience, the team is keeping its expectations in check. “Our goal is upper half at this point,” he says. “We’re the dark horses. It could go real good or real bad. There’s some formidable competition out there.” But don’t discount Team Music City USA. They have been sailing LeMay’s J/70 together for the past year and their polished crew work could be a significant advantage if the breeze picks up as expected for the second half of the regatta.

Racing for the U.S. Qualifying Series for the New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup presented by Rolex will start tomorrow at 10:30 a.m., on the East Passage of Narragansett Bay, and run through Saturday afternoon. For the first two days, the 22 yacht club teams split into two qualifying groups that will alternate sailing in identical fleets of J/70s and Sonars. The top six teams in each group will move to the Gold Fleet, which will sail in J/70s on Friday and Saturday, with the top three yacht clubs earning an invitation to the 2015 Invitational Cup presented by Rolex.

Event websiteTeam rosters

The New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup presented by Rolex is hosted by the NYYC in Newport, R.I., at its Harbour Court Clubhouse. The fourth biennial Invitational Cup will be held September 12-19, 2015. The Invitational Cup is a regatta for yacht clubs from around the world and their sailors. It is a premier Corinthian sailing competition. The racing is in NYYC Swan 42s, the eighth one-design class created by the New York Yacht Club since 1900.

The inaugural Invitational Cup occurred in 2009, with the host club winning. The team from the Royal Canadian Yacht Club won both the 2011 and 2013 events. Teams representing clubs from all six inhabited continents and 21 countries have participated in the Invitational Cup.

The U.S. Qualifying Series (USQS) is held in even-numbered years and serves as the pathway for three yacht club teams from the United States to earn an invitation to the following year’s Invitational Cup.

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