NEWPORT, R.I. – With an entry list flush with famous boats and crew lists stacked with stars, it’s fair to say the New York Yacht Club’s (NYYC) 154th Annual Regatta presented by Rolex is set to be one of the most talked about regattas of the summer. It all starts this weekend in Newport, where 112 boats–from brand new to vintage–have gathered to test equipment and polish racing skills on the world-famous waters of Narragansett Bay and Block Island Sound. Before competing in multiple races Saturday and Sunday, the fleet will enjoy a 19-nautical mile race around Conanicut Island, playing out mini distance-race scenarios that will further prepare those crews entering the Newport to Bermuda Race, a 635-nautical mile ocean racing classic that also starts off Newport next Friday.
Familiar to locals is George David’s (Hartford, Conn.) 90-foot entrant Rambler, which has broken records in the Nordbank Blue Race (transatlantic), Rolex Middle Sea Race and the Offshore Race Rolex Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro in the past year. With several Rhode Islanders aboard as crew, the boat nevertheless will be without its star helmsman, Ken Read (Newport, R.I.), who has jumped ship to skipper another boat in the event, the 70-foot PUMA Ocean Racing, as part of his preparation for going around the world in the 2008-2009 Volvo Ocean Race.
“The Annual Regatta is going to be hugely important for PUMA, because we only have a small window to learn how to boat-handle these monsters around the buoys,” said Read, explaining that there are inshore buoy races at each of the Volvo stopovers. “This won’t just be one of the most competitive regattas of the season, but of this century.”
Rambler’s owner concurs. “I’ve been doing the New York Yacht Club events for a couple of decades,” said George David, “and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tougher fleet.” David referenced a half dozen new IRC designs with which he will be grouped for handicap racing and says recent structural changes that have made Rambler “stiffer and faster” should keep his older boat (launched in 2002) competitive with the pack. Rambler is topped in size only by the 99-foot super maxi Speedboat, which is “fresh out of the box,” to be skippered by Volvo winning skipper Mike Sanderson (NZL), and has been optimized for entering distance races and breaking speed records. That last fact may give Speedboat somewhat of a disadvantage in around-the-buoys racing, especially since the crew has had little time to train compared to David’s. Before winning the Volvo Ocean Race, Sanderson skippered Mari-Cha IV in the Rolex Transatlantic Race and broke the 100-year-old NYYC Transatlantic Race Record set by Charlie Barr and Atlantic in 1905.
“It’s tough to push the bigger boats around short courses,” said David. “Our windward legs will be about 2 1/2 miles long and that’s a short distance for sail handling.”
Another boat with local roots is Dan Meyers’ (Boston, Mass./Newport, R.I.) 66-foot Numbers, which finished second at the US-IRC East Coast Championship last Fall and won its IRC class at Acura Key West Race Week earlier this year. It will match up nicely against Bob Towse, the NYYC Rear Commodore, and his son Farley Towse’s (Stamford, Conn.) 66 footer Blue Yankee, which won its class last year at the Annual Regatta.
Roger Sturgeon’s (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) Rosebud/Team DYT and Jim Swartz’s (San Francisco, Calif.) Moneypenny will represent the first two boats developed for the new STP65 class, while no less than 15 NYYC Club Swan 42s, one skippered by NYYC Commodore Charles Townsend (New York, N.Y./Middletown, R.I.), will show the strength of that rapidly developing class, which saw its first boat delivered in late 2006. It is the ninth one-design class developed by the New York Yacht Club since the early 1900s.
In addition to the hot-rod racers, the Annual Regatta will showcase vintage designs racing in the 12 Metre and Classics divisions. (The Annual Regatta serves as the first event in the NYYC’s Classics Series.) Included will be six 12 Metres, including Intrepid and Courageous, which both successfully defended the America’s Cup (in ’67/’70 and ’74/’77, respectively), and seven Classics, including Sam Croll’s (Rye, N.Y.) Angelita, which won the 1932 Olympic gold medal in the eight metre class, and Edgar Cato’s (Charlotte, N.C.) Dorade, one of Olin Stephens’ earliest designs, which won the Transatlantic Race in 1931 and the Fastnet Race that same year and is credited with single-handedly revolutionizing all aspects of sail and hull design for all blue water boats to come.
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