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Age hasn't mellowed the fighting spirit of the 12 Metre class

by New York Yacht Club 17 Jul 2018 04:35 PDT 17-21 July 2018
New York Yacht Club's Race Week 2018 © Rolex / Daniel Forster

More than three decades after its starring role in the America's Cup came to a close, the 12 Metre class continues to thrill sailors and spectators with competitive racing off the coast of America's first resort. Nine of the historic yachts, including three America's Cup champions, will take part in the 11th edition of Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex, which starts on Tuesday night with an Opening Ceremony and America's Cup Panel Discussion at the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court.

While the nostalgia runs deep for these sleek yachts with their overlapping headsails, flush decks and minimal freeboard, the competition is as fierce as ever as the class gears up for an historic world championship in Newport in 2019.

"We had a pretty strong showing at the Annual Regatta, but that doesn't reflect how close the racing is in the Traditional class," says Robert Morton, who will skipper American Eagle in a four-boat division comprised of 12 Metre yachts built before 1968. "We had good starts and sailed smart. It is amazing how a small advantage can make a big difference in the outcome of a race."

The New York Yacht Club's Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex was first run in 1998, and will take place July 17 to 21 out of the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court, in Newport. R.I. The biennial summer classic has established itself as one of the premier summer race weeks in the Northeast thanks to its attractive combination of great racing conditions off Newport and the superlative shoreside hospitality at the Club's waterfront Clubhouse overlooking Newport Harbor. Partners for the 2018 edition of Race Week at Newport include presenting sponsor Rolex, regatta sponsor BMW and regatta supporter Helly Hansen.

"We have created a syndicate called Eagle 2019 which, in 2018, is chartering the boat for Annual Regatta, Race Week at Newport, the Edgartown 12 Metre Regatta and the North Americans," says Morton. "We will also charter her for all of the regattas leading up to and including the Worlds in 2019. I am steering the boat, but we have a group of people who have raced American Eagle over the past several years. Our goal is to use the 2018 regattas to learn the boat and prepare for the 2019 season with a class win in the Worlds being our ultimate objective."

The 2018 season is off to a solid start for the Eagle 2019 syndicate, including a win at the 164th New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta, which was sailed in early June in mostly light air. With breezier conditions expected for this coming week, Morton is tempering his expectations.

"In the three regattas prior to the Annual Regatta, there was a tie on points for first place and the winner was determined by who won the last race," he says. "There is definitely a difference in maneuverability with the older boats, so it is critical to have good speed off the line, and it is important to get the boat back up to speed after tacks. American Eagle seems to be a good all-around boat. I would say that Weatherly has an advantage in light air and downwind, while Columbia and Nefertiti are better in heavy air. We are always working for more speed, but the differences are quite small."

In addition to the Traditional Division, five 12 Metre yachts will race in the Modern Division. Jack LeFort's Challenge 12 took a one-point win over Dennis William's Defender at the Annual Regatta and will start as a slim favorite. But strong challenges are expected from Defender, the 1980 America's Cup champion, two-time America's Cup winner Courageous, as well as Freedom, which won in 1980.

America's Cup Panel Discussion to Be Live Streamed

While the racing kicks off on Wednesday, July 18, the onshore activities for Race Week at Newport will start Tuesday night, at 1800 EDT, with the Opening Ceremony and an America's Cup Panel Discussion, which will look at the recent history of sailing's most prestigious trophy; the plans for the 36th edition in Auckland, New Zealand, in March 2021; and the challenges faces the competing teams as they try to design a never-before-seen 75-foot foiling monohull. The discussion will be live streamed via the New York Yacht Club Regattas Facebook page.

The panel discussion will be moderated by America's Cup commentator Tucker Thompson. Panelists include NYYC Commodore Phil Lotz; Rob Ouellette, the COO of New York Yacht Club American Magic; Jed Drake, a former ESPN senior vice president and America's Cup producer from the 1987, 1988, 1992 and 1995 regattas; and naval architect Scott Ferguson, a two-time America's Cup winner and Design Coordinator for Oracle Team USA in the 2017 America's Cup. The conversation will touch on all aspects of the competition and its remarkable history, and there will be an opportunity for attendees and viewers from around the world to ask questions.

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