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Slow and steady wins the day in the 63rd running of New York YC Queen's Cup

by Stuart Streuli, New York Yacht Club 22 Jul 23:14 PDT 22 July 2018
Queen's Cup 2018 © Dan Nerney

For two hours, New York Yacht Club Vice Commodore Bill Ketcham (Greenwich, Conn.) and his team watched as the bulk of the fleet participating in the 63rd edition of the Queen's Cup sailed away from them. It was inevitable, Ketcham's J/44 Maxine was one of the slowest boats, according to rating, in a 14-boat grouping than ranged in size from 41 to 74 feet. Still it's not easy seeing so many competitor's transoms gradually disappear into the horizon.

"You know it's going to happen," says Ketcham, who has sails Maxine with an all-amateur crew that includes his son, Saunders, and daughter, Liza. "But you've no feel for how fast it happens. It's pretty discouraging."

But the team shelved any disappointment, focused on the task at hand, and when all the boats had crossed the line and the IRC handicaps were applied, Maxine was at the top of the standings, a minute and two seconds ahead of Tony Langley's TP52 Gladiator and 1:23 ahead of Columbia, the 60-year-old 12 Metre skippered by Anthony Chiurco and Kevin Hegarty.

The Queen's Cup trophy was given to the New York Yacht Club by Queen Elizabeth II and officially presented to the Club by the British Ambassador in November 1953. It's a perpetual trophy that is raced for annually under the same conditions as the King's Cup that preceded it and was retired after the passing of King George VI in 1952. Each skipper must be a World Sailing Group 1 (amateur) sailor. The trophy is always decided by a single race, often longer than most modern buoy races, and utilizes a unique 2-minute starting window.

Ketcham and his team opted to wait until the end of the starting window, crossing the line 1:49 after the gun sounded. With many of the faster boats well up the course this helped to limit the amount of time they spent sailing in disturbed air, though it's still never easy racing against longer, faster yachts.

"There's no way to avoid getting wailed on during that first leg," he says. "Even if you start right at the gun, the big boats are going to be on [your air] right away. If you wait, everybody is already on you, so there's no way to get around suffering on that first weather leg. So you just suffer through it, which is what we did."

While the breeze wasn't particularly strong, Ketcham went with one of his smaller headsails.

"We were smart to sail with a [No. 3 jib] even through the breeze was bouncing from 13 to 18 knots," he says "In flat water with a three, the boat is really quick. You point a little higher and you can tack easily. It's like tacking a dinghy."

As one of the few boats flying a symmetric spinnaker off a pole—the bulk of the fleet was flying asymmetric spinnakers off a bow sprit—Ketcham also thinks he had an advantage on the one downwind leg, when he can sail very close to the rhumb line.

A final key decision came during the long upwind leg to the finish off Fort Adams. Ketcham's team was one of the few that opted to go to the east side of Gould Island.

"There was a huge lefty up there with a ton of pressure," he said. "We missed it on the first weather leg so we said we're not missing it this time. That really helped."

While happy with their performance, the team on Maxine had no idea how they'd done until a fellow competitor called to congratulate them.

"It was a complete surprise," Ketcham says. "We were just hoping we beat some boats. We just didn't know because the boats got so spread out and we were pretty far back. A huge surprise. There was a lot of elation on the boat when we heard that. We just couldn't believe it."

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