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U.S. Qualifying Series - Storied yacht clubs to take part

by Stuart Streuli on 5 Aug 2014
The Southern Yacht Club team sailed to second in the Silver Fleet in 2012 U.S. Qualifying Series Billy Black / NYYC
Founded in 1849 and 1875, respectively, Southern Yacht Club and Chicago Yacht Club are two of the oldest and most respected sailing organizations in the United States. Come September, in Newport, R.I., four amateur sailors from each of those two clubs will compete against teams from 22 other U.S. yacht clubs—old and young—in the 2014 U.S. Qualifying Series for the 2015 New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup presented by Rolex.

The USQS, as the regatta is commonly known, is the lone pathway for domestic clubs looking to compete for the Invitational Cup, sailing’s premiere Corinthian big-boat competition. Both events are hosted by the New York Yacht Club at Harbour Court in Newport, R.I. The top three teams in the USQS, which is sailed in J/70s and Sonars from September 2 to 6, will earn a berth in the 2015 Invitational Cup, which is sailed in the New York Yacht Club Swan 42.

Both clubs have mined their respective talent pools to assemble competitive teams. Chicago Yacht Club (at right), which is participating in the USQS for the first time, tabbed former U.S. Sailing Team member Mark Teborek to skipper its entry.

Teborek is no stranger to high-pressure sailing events, but this one is different from most of the regattas he has done since graduating from Boston College a decade ago.

'There is an added pressure when you are not just representing yourself,' he said. 'From the start we have tried to involve as many people as possible. We have the goal of qualifying, yes, but our ultimate goal extends beyond this one regatta. We want to do keelboat team racing and other national events, and get more sailors in their 20s and 30s involved in racing at CYC. In short, we are taking a long-term perspective.'

Having missed the qualifying spots in 2010 and 2012, Southern Yacht Club (at left) is hoping the third time will prove to be the charm.

'I would love to come back to the club having qualified us for the IC,' said skipper Zak Fanberg, a first-time USQS competitor who was an All-American sailor at the College of Charleston. 'The Club has done [the USQS] a few times. I’d like to be the one that gets us qualified first.'

To do that, Fanberg and Teborek, and their respective crews, will have to revisit the skills that helped them succeed on the college sailing circuit. While the boats for the USQS are 23-foot keelboats—as opposed to the light 14-foot dinghies used in college sailing—the format is nearly identical. The boats are provided, as are the sails, the rig tuning is locked for the regatta, and the races are short. Boatspeed differences across the fleet, which help the best sailors separate from the pack in most regattas, are minimal.

'You have to know you’re not always going to get a good start,' said Fanberg. 'It’s the teams that can turn an eighth place at the top mark into a fifth, or turn a fifth at the first mark into a second, that will do well. It’s a lot of minimizing mistakes because everybody is going the same speed.'

The 24 clubs will be split into two groups for qualifying, with each group sailing in both the J/70s (at right) and the Sonars. The fleet will then be split into Gold and Silver fleets, with the former sailing in the J/70s and the latter in the Sonars.

Preparing for two different boats—among other differences, the J/70 carries an asymmetric spinnaker while the Sonar has a more traditional symmetric spinnaker—is one of the many unique challenges of this regatta.

'We have been practicing twice a week since mid-June,' said Teborek. 'We went up to Harbor Springs to race a J/70 in the Ugotta Regatta. Lastly, we have coordinated with Bayview Yacht Club who is coming in to do a weekend training session in Sonars. Overall, it was a tremendous effort to get our keelboat team off the ground, but I believe it will pay dividends going forwards for the club. We have a dedicated team and a very supportive club.'

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