Biennial Summer Classic in Newport
Published on July 13th, 2018
With their sleek hulls, tinted windows, black composite sails and raked-back mast, Gunboat catamarans exude all the cool and sophistication of a premium stretch limousine. That’s not far from the truth, says Phil Lotz (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), who will be sailing his Gunboat 60 Arethusa in the 11th edition of the New York Yacht Club’s Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex.
While his monohull colleagues are grunting upwind with their crew hanging over the lifelines to help balance the yacht, Lotz and his team are going faster and flatter. And occasionally enjoying some snacks. “I see a lot more smiles on the Gunboat, when we’re doing 20-plus knots and serving lunch,” says Lotz, who was a dedicated monohull racer prior to purchasing his Gunboat three years ago.
The New York Yacht Club’s Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex was first run in 1998, and will take place July 17 to 21 out of the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court, in Newport. R.I. The biennial summer classic has established itself as one of the premier summer race weeks in the Northeast thanks to its attractive combination of great racing conditions off Newport and the superlative shoreside hospitality at the Club’s waterfront Clubhouse overlooking Newport Harbor.
Enjoying lunch at speed, without worrying about spilling your drink, is a luxury monohull sailors wouldn’t dare to dream about. When the breeze is up, it’s all hands on deck to trim the sails and keep the boat from heeling too much. But, Lotz adds, it’s not all wine and roses on board the massive catamarans.
“Things seem very sedate most of the time because people are not hiking and the boat isn’t heeling excessively,” says Lotz, the Commodore of the New York Yacht Club, “but when you load up the boat and you’re going 20-plus knots in your living room, things happen fast. Any mistakes, given the loads and speed, can be costly. Over time people get comfortable, know what to look for and like everything else, practice makes perfect.”
Lotz raced Arethusa to Bermuda in June. The 600-plus miles he and his crew put on the boat during that race has moved them further along the learning curve as they look to do battle with two other 60-foot Gunboats and a HH 66 during Race Week. But he is by no means complacent.
“When you are on a mixed-use platform of cruising and racing—and the racing is intermittent—it takes a while to learn the boat,” he says. “We feel that a few years climbing the learning curve is about right. We are certainly going faster and are getting much more comfortable than the first year.”
With 376 boats built since 2001, there are few secrets to success left undiscovered in the J/109 class, which is expected to be the largest one-design class at Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex. Winning regattas in this fleet of identical yachts is about doing the little things well, which explains why class president Bill Kneller (Portsmouth, R.I.) and his team on Vento Solare (USA 266, at right) are often found out practicing all the routine maneuvers, as well as some you don’t often see.
“We’ll do starting drills, mark roundings without the spinnaker, with the spinnaker, drops and sets, we’ll simulate a problem and a recovery,” he says. “We try to minimize the communications on the boat so there’s not a lot of extra chatter. We practice everything so it isn’t the first time we try it when we get out on the race course.”
Many of the J/109s competing in Race Week have their overall focus on the class’s North American championships this October in Western Long Island Sound. While that goal will require a lot of serious focus and dedication, this class is surviving, Kneller says, because it doesn’t forget why everyone is taking time away from family and work to participate in regattas.
“[At Race Week] we always enjoy catching up with the sailors under the tent,” he says. “The social events are always good. We traditionally see some pretty impressive boats.”
Among the eye candy is the 66-foot HH catamaran, which is owned by Jim Vos, who a few years ago was the J/109 class president.
“I want to see his new boat,” Kneller says.