by Jan Harley
Among the 20 teams that will take to the waters off Newport, R.I., for the 2013 New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup presented by Rolex, there are four that will be flying the Stars and Stripes of the United States. Each of these teams has waged a hard-fought battle to arrive on the starting line.
Ken Colburn’s team on Apparition at the 2011 New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup presented by Rolex
Three clubs emerged from the Invitational Cup U.S. Qualifying Series (USQS), which is held every other year for U.S. teams only and rewards the top-three finishers with an invitation to the biennial international event. Larchmont, Seattle and San Francisco Yacht Clubs took the top three places, respectively, in a fleet of 24 yacht club teams at the 2012 USQS, with all three having first been put through the paces during the 2010 USQS. The fourth American team, the NYYC’s representative in the event, has also undergone a multi-event test to be selected for the Corinthian competition that will be held from September 7-14, 2013, in identically matched Swan 42s, and hosted from NYYC’s Harbour Court clubhouse.
Ken Colburn’s team on Apparition at last year's New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup presented by Rolex
For Larchmont Yacht Club, finishing first in the 2012 USQS was a fitting follow up to missing the cut – by one point – for the 2011 Invitational Cup. Skipper Danny Pletsch was at the helm for LYC during both of the USQS events, and will lead the team hoping to take the trophy back to Long Island Sound.
'As a new team in the event without a lot of Swan 42 experience, I have been led to believe that the course isn't as long as usual and will have the fundamentals of short course dinghy racing,' said Pletsch (Sarasota, Fla.) whose crew will include tactician Cardwell Potts (New Orleans, La.) and Clay Bischoff (Coral Gables, Fla.). All three were recognized by the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association (ICSA) as All-American skippers, with Potts and Bischoff taking College Sailor of the Year honors, respectively, in 2004 and 2003. Together they have competed with much success in team racing events.
'Our strategy will mainly be based on big picture items, and keeping our heads out of the boat,' added Pletsch. 'It is a high status event and I am excited that we can get the [LYC] membership up to Newport and cheer us on.'
With preparation the key to success, the team representing Seattle Yacht Club, led by skipper Andrew Loe (New Orleans, La.), made a significant commitment to training for the Invitational Cup. SYC’s team spent 10 days in Newport in July and competed in the Swan 42 National Championship where they had two top-five finishes in a very competitive fleet.
'We are feeling well prepared,' said Loe, who also received ICSA All-American honors as a skipper. 'Sailing the Nationals in July was a great learning experience. We improved as the event progressed and never made the same mistake twice. Our strategy is to approach the event like an American-style college regatta. There will be plenty of races, so we'll be working to stay consistent over the series and avoid big mistakes.
Fleet action during the 2011 New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup presented by Rolex
The team representing The San Francisco Yacht Club also did their due diligence during the Swan 42 Nationals in July. With Shawn Bennett on the helm, and America’s Cup and Volvo veteran Melissa Purdy calling tactics, SFYC won one race of the championship and had several other top-five finishes. When training at home the team utilized a J/120, the boat closest to a Swan 42 that was available to them.
'We thoroughly enjoyed the level of competition we experienced in the USQS and look forward to the same at the Invitational Cup,' said Bennett. 'Our strategy is to use this challenge as motivation to prepare ahead of time as well as continually improve throughout the event as a team. An event like this can be a mental puzzle and an emotional and physical marathon. We have heard about the incredible hospitality and great shore side events, and know to expect to be competing against some of the best amateur sailors in the world. Newport is a spectacular sailing town and NYYC has the best spot to enjoy it all from.'
Apparition skipper Ken Colburn will represent the host club for the 2013 New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup presented by Rolex
Home court advantage will go to Ken Colburn’s team on Apparition, which will represent host New York Yacht Club in the Invitational Cup for the second consecutive time after besting four other teams who had hoped to represent NYYC. A resident of Dover, Mass., Colburn, a two-time class national champion and winner of the Swan 42 division this year at Quantum Key West and Block Island Race Weeks, finished second overall in the 2011 Invitational Cup presented by Rolex.
Colburn started his 2013 preparations about the same time the other American teams were racing in the USQS. 'I started putting this team together last fall, anticipating trying to win the eliminations, so that I would have a team that had a lot of experience together for the Invitational Cup should we be able to represent NYYC again. The team has come together very well. The chemistry is good, and the team is good. As sailors know, there are a lot of very good individual sailors, but it’s the chemistry of what you put together that counts, especially in this event.'
The team on Apparition includes: tactician Pete Levesque and his wife Caroline Levesque, both of whom were ICSA All-Americans and are well known on the team racing and match racing circuits. Five of the crew, including Caroline, sailed on Apparition in the 2011 Invitational Cup. The other returning sailors are strategist Bob Slattery, headsail and chute trimmer Jeff Sammis, boat captain Bill Hooper, floater Chip Whipple, and Virginia 'Ginny' Colburn, who is the skipper’s wife and does sewer. Rounding out the team is Jon Desmond on mast, Oakley Jones on bow, and main trimmer Alden Reid, who sailed for Eastern Yacht Club in the 2011 Invitational Cup.
The main difference this time around is having confidence in how the team on Apparition will work together. 'It was a great team (in 2011) when it came together, but there was uncertainty as we had to scramble to assemble the team after winning the eliminations in late July of 2011,' said Colburn. 'We didn’t actually race together in a competitive race until the first race of the Invitational. We had practiced together, but you just don’t know how well a new team will do under racing conditions. It did end up working well last time, but this time we know going into the event that the team functions very well together.'
'I think each successive Invitational Cup should and will get tougher and stronger competitively. The first time around there were great teams competing, but there were also teams that didn’t know what the event was going to be about. When they came back in 2011, they realized it was a tougher event and therefore prepared more. The teams that had Swan 42 experience under their belts were the teams that were in the best position to do well and there were nine different winners in the 11 races. I suspect this time we will see a similar breadth of talent amongst the competitors and we have been working very hard to get ready for a very challenging Invitational Cup.'