Sail long enough and you’re sure to have a leg where all factors conspire against you: the wind, the tide, the competition, passing motor boats, everything. That’s what this year is like for regatta organizers. The New York Yacht Club’s plan to re-start the 2020 sailing season on August 28 to 30 with the 166th edition of the Annual Regatta was stymied by an uptick of COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island and the resulting uncertainty regarding possible quarantine restrictions imposed by neighboring states upon anyone spending more than 24 hours in the Ocean State. But, determined to exhaust every opportunity to get sailors on the water this season, the Club has pivoted once again, moving the Annual Regatta to the first weekend in October where it will include the Melges IC37 National Championship, which was originally scheduled for those dates.
“Many of our competitors and volunteer race committee travel to Rhode Island from neighboring states, and there was simply no way to reasonably guarantee they could safely, and legally, return to their normal lives after the completion of the regatta, had we held it in late August,” says Commodore William P. Ketcham. “With renewed focus in Rhode Island toward reducing the percentage of positive tests, we’re cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to extend the Annual Regatta’s unparalleled legacy: 165 editions over 173 years, including the last 51 years in a row.”
The Annual Regatta, North America’s oldest regular sailing competition, was first run in 1846, and has been sailed on an annual basis since, with the occasional pause for national or global crises. The last time the Annual Regatta was canceled was 1968, due to the Presidential and Gubernatorial decrees of mourning that followed the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy on June 6, 1968. There was no Annual Regatta scheduled in 1943 through 1945, due to World War II; 1917 through 1920, due to World War I and the 1918 influenza pandemic; or 1898, when the United States was engaged in the Spanish-American War.
Since the Club acquired its Harbour Court Clubhouse overlooking Newport Harbor, the Annual Regatta has been a fixture at the start of the Rhode Island sailing season, usually taking place the first or second weekend in June. But unique times demand creative solutions. So for 2020, it’ll be the last regatta of the summer season. And it will include some smaller one-design classes not traditionally invited to the Annual Regatta, specifically Sonars, Stars and Shields.
”There’s nothing normal about trying to hold an event this year,” says Ketcham. “But we know there are a lot of eager sailors in Southern New England, and we believe there’s tremendous value in sending them into the fall with some fond memories of sailing in 2020. Those lucky enough to have raced in Rhode Island in late September and early October know that it’s hard to beat in terms of sailing conditions. While the dates on the calendar may be strange, the format will be very familiar: a lap of Conanicut Island on Friday, October 2, then two days of buoy racing or navigator-course racing over the weekend.”
The other remaining events on the Club’s regatta calendar—Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex (September 23 to 26) and the Queen’s Cup (September 27)—remain as scheduled. There will be no on-shore social activity for any of the Club’s 2020 regattas.