For the first time since the inaugural event in 2009 the fleet for the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup will hit the starting line without a defending champion, shaking up the form guide as teams and sailing fans look toward the start of sailing’s premiere Corinthian big-boat competition starts on Tuesday, September 14.
Re-entry concerns and strict quarantine protocols related to the COVID pandemic have forced clubs from Asia, the antipodes, and Europe to decline their spots in the regatta. The absence of the defending champions from the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, along with a trio of clubs that sailed in each previous edition, has created opportunity for new international entrants and a handful of U.S. yacht clubs loaded with top amateur talent.
“While the COVID pandemic has made hosting an international sporting competition more challenging than ever, it pales in comparison to the hard work being done every day by frontline medical professionals around the globe. They have our enduring gratitude,” said Robbie Benjamin, the event chair. “We started this year with a superb entry list of 20 yacht clubs from around the world. It’s changed frequently over the past six months, but we’re tremendously proud that 19 teams that have made the commitment to travel to Newport to compete. Every former champion will compete in 2021, except for Royal Sydney. The seven U.S. clubs is a high for this regatta, but historically, the domestic teams have fared well, and we anticipate the level of competition being equal to, if not higher than, any previous edition.”
The Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup is a biennial regatta hosted by the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court in Newport, R.I. Since the event was first run in 2009, it has attracted top amateur sailors from 45 of the world’s most prestigious yacht clubs from 21 countries. After five editions in the Swan 42 class, the 2021 event will be the second sailed in the IC37, designed by Mark Mills. The strict one-design nature of this purpose-built class combined with the fact that each boat is owned and maintained by the New York Yacht Club, will ensure a level playing field not seen in any other amateur big-boat sailing competition. The regatta will run from Saturday, September 11, through Saturday, September 18, with racing starting on Tuesday, September 14. A live broadcast on Facebook and YouTube, starting on Wednesday, September 15, will allow fellow club members, friends, family and sailing fans from around the world follow the action as it happens. Nineteen teams from nine countries will compete in 2021. The 2021 Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup is brought to you by title sponsor Rolex and regatta sponsors Helly Hansen and Hammetts Hotel.
The Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup has always been much more than a sailing competition. The onshore social schedule at Harbour Court and the resulting interclub camaraderie are integral components of the experience, which competitors say is unlike any other regatta in the world. But with the first gun less than a week away, the current focus is on who might win.
With the defending champions sitting out, 2019 runner-up San Diego Yacht Club is an obvious choice. Led once again by former college all-America selections Tyler Sinks (white hat) and Jake LaDow (far left), the team has the experience and talent to win, and the confidence of knowing they were just one break away from winning this regatta in 2019.
Four clubs that have won this regatta before—New York Yacht Club, Royal Canadian Yacht Club, Royal Thames Yacht Club and Southern Yacht Club—must also be considered among the favorites.
The Royal Canadian Yacht Club is the only two-time champion of the Invitational Cup. The team’s preparation for 2021 included practicing for and competing in the 25th edition of the Canada’s Cup, the premier match-racing trophy in the Great Lakes. A 6-0 win over Youngstown (N.Y.) Yacht Club seems a strong indication the RCYC team will come to Newport with a fair bit of momentum. But skipper Terry McLauglin wasn’t willing to shoulder the yolk of pre-race favorite.
“I expect [the competition] to be as tough as ever,” said McLaughlin, who won a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics. “I don’t want to say we’re super prepared. We are reasonably prepared, but we haven’t been fleet racing and we haven’t been sailing in Newport.”
McLaughlin’s team is a combination of the old guard, including two teammates from the Canada I campaign for the 1983 America’s Cup, and the next generation of RCYC sailors, such as 28-year-old tactician Lance Fraser and Mariah Millen, who will be sailing with her dad.
“Our team is identical to the 2019 Invitational Cup team, with the exception of the mainsheet trimmer,” said McLaughlin (white hat), who steered Royal Canadian to fourth in 2019. “Certainly for everybody else, they’re far more used to the IC37 this year. In 2019, we had some people in key positions on the boat who hadn’t really sailed big boats much who learned quite quickly.”
First-time competitors from Canada’s Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, Howth Yacht Club in Ireland, and Noroton Yacht Club and American Yacht Club in the United States add an element of mystery to the pre-race discussion. Each team brings a collection of talented amateur sailors to the event. But how well they can assimilate to the IC37 and the unique format of the regatta won’t be known at least until the first race kicks off on Tuesday, September 14.