When it comes to competitive sailing this summer, Newport’s dance card is full, leading with the grandfather of all events, the 159th New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta presented by Rolex.
Interrupted only by war, the event, scheduled for 14-16 June, has continued its historic legacy for well over a century and a half, making it the oldest regatta in the country. Equally impressive is its delivery of hard-core racing and sporting camaraderie at one of sailing’s most renowned playgrounds and one of the world’s most prestigious yacht clubs. Orchestrated from the New York Yacht Club’s Harbour Court clubhouse in Newport, R.I. and sailed on Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound, the regatta is open to yachts sailing in IRC, Classic, 12 Metre and One-Design classes as well as the recently introduced Cruiser-Racer and Doublehanded divisions.
“The Annual Regatta goes back to the early days of the New York Yacht Club with its first clubhouse in Hoboken, New Jersey, and now, in Newport, it has become a signature event of the yacht club and the first major event of the year,” said former NYYC Commodore Charles Townsend who will be racing his 39ft Sparkman & Stephens designed Fidelio in the Classics class.
“Newport is a yachting hub and definitely the center of the classic-boat universe. This is the first wooden classic that I’ve owned, and it’s like sailing a museum piece. Prior to that, I always had high performance carbon fibre boats, but racing classics is just as tight as one-design racing, and we have a wonderful time. Their motion is so graceful through the water, and they are beautiful to sail and to see.”
Fidelio, along with most of the rest of the fleet, will be competing in a separately scored (therefore optional) 19 mile Around the Island Race on Friday, 14 June. The circumnavigation of Conanicut Island remains a favorite among racing sailors visiting Newport, and at stake in the IRC division is a Rolex timepiece, which will be presented to the overall winner during that evening’s festivities at Harbour Court.
“On behalf of the members of the New York Yacht Club, we are pleased to be hosting with Rolex this 159th Annual Regatta to share with today's sailors a part of our history and traditions," said NYYC Commodore Thomas J. Harrington. “The festivities will be enjoyed at our home on the water, Harbour Court, which was the former home of the 36th Commodore, John Nicholas Brown. As it has in the past, the competition will be strong with great camaraderie assured.”
On Saturday and Sunday, 15-16 June, competitors will race in the traditional two-day series, which is split into Green fleet for Classic, 12 Metre, 6 Metre and small boat One-Design classes and Blue and White fleets for IRC and large boat One-Design classes. PHRF classes will race in the Red fleet’s 'Navigator' races, which were introduced last year to engender a more relaxed racing atmosphere. They consist of one race each day using government and racing marks on the southern part of Narragansett Bay. Also for the Red fleet competitors, both days of weekend racing will be scored separately, so teams need not commit to a full weekend.
In odd-numbered years, the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta presented by Rolex follows the Annapolis to Newport Race and precedes Block Island Race Week, attracting many of the same competing yachts. This year, that group will include Bill Sweetser’s J/109 Rush, which took first place last year in IRC 7, and Larry Landry’s White Witch, which won IRC 4 in the Around the Island Race.
“If I could pick one thing that I like most about sailing in Newport it would be the level of competition from other boats,” said Landry, adding that he acquired White Witch toward the end of 2011, and this year will be only his second season racing it. “We had a good experience last year at the Annual Regatta, both on the water and off. The distance racing came a little bit easier to us than the tighter, more tactical windward-leeward racing. This year, by the time we get to Newport, we will have had more time in the boat as a team and hope to do a little bit better in the buoy racing on Saturday and Sunday.”
The eight One-Design classes are also stacked with competition, and return contender Henry Brauer is one of the frontrunners with his J/111 Fleetwing, which won her One-Design division in 2012 at the biennial New York Yacht Club Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex.
“Newport attracts a lot of people in the summer, because it is a fun place to be, and there are so many good boats and talented sailors,” said Brauer, who will mark this as his third year competing at the Annual Regatta. “The majority of the J/111 class is in close proximity to Newport, so we are hoping to get enough boats this year so that we can have a one-design start.” After Fleetwing finishes this event, it will be shipped to Chicago to compete in the Race to Mackinac, the Verve Cup and the J/111 North American Championship. “We always go into our events wanting to win, but we are looking to the Annual Regatta to give us an opportunity to look at some of our new sails and to get the team back onboard before heading to Chicago,” added Brauer.