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Buckaroo, Gamecock hoping success in other classes will translate to the Melges IC37 at Race Week

by New York Yacht Club 22 Sep 01:15 PDT September 23-26, 2020
Race Week at Newport © Paul Todd / Outside Images

The Melges IC37 class was designed to make it as easy as possible for new skippers and crew to get up to speed and compete on a high level. Of course, there's no way to completely neutralize the advantage that can be earned with time in the boat. But the fixed standing rigging, one-design sail package and extensive training and tuning tools available from North Sails and the class association have gone along way toward flattening the learning curve.

This is welcome news for Peter McClennen's Gamecock team (above, sailing in the 2019 Melges IC37 National Championship) and Jim Buckingham and Skip Beck's Buckaroo crew, two relatively new IC37 teams that will be racing in the dozen-strong Melges IC37 fleet at the New York Yacht Club's Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex, which starts Wednesday on Rhode Island Sound.

The New York Yacht Club's Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex was first run in 1998, and takes place this year from September 23 to 26 out of the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court, in Newport. R.I. The biennial regatta, traditionally run at the apex of the summer sailing season, 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 shore-side hospitality at the Club's waterfront Clubhouse overlooking Newport Harbor. Partners for the 2020 edition of Race Week at Newport include presenting sponsor Rolex and regatta sponsors Hammetts Hotel and Helly Hansen.

"We were a single-event charterer last summer, then competed in the wonderful Winter Series in Fort Lauderdale," says Peter McClennen (Newport, R.I.), who will sail one of four privately owned boats among the 12 entries. The other eight are chartered through the New York Yacht Club's innovative concierge charter program. "These boats are fantastic to sail and race. This year, the challenge will be crew availability and training. With such a short season, all of us are scrambling to get up to speed."

The Gamecock moniker is a familiar one around Newport. McClennen has been an active, and successful, participant in region's vibrant classic boat racing scene with his 95-year-old R Class sailboat of the same name (at left). This past summer was slated to be a busy one for McClennen and his team until the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled much of the regatta schedule and forced him to get creative.

"When the pandemic unfolded, we were in the middle of an ambitious winter/spring schedule with the IC37, Melges 20, C&C30 and Etchells," says McClennen. "When it all understandably had to be shut down, I started to investigate what would be an appropriate boat for this summer's sailing. This lead us to the Class 40, First Light, which was available for charter. This was really fun and challenging.

"Concurrently, I launched the R boat. Then as the protocols for safe sailing became more clear, and we could establish a strong practice, we launched the new IC37 and began competing in the local PHRF events."

What does all that mean for his team's chances in Race Week and the Melges IC37 National Championship the following weekend?

"I think we will keep our expectations well in check," he says, "and focus on having a good time and do our best to sail well."

Buckingham (Newport Beach, Calif.), who will be sailing his first Melges IC37 event at Race Week, is equally as relaxed when it comes to his outlook for the regatta.

"The focus, first and foremost, is to have some fun," he says. "Beyond that, crew coordination around the course and figuring out what makes the boat go through a range of conditions will be the focus. Fortunately, between all the printed materials put out by both North and the class, plus the webinars, there are a lot of resources to get a head start before actually hitting the water."

But don't sleep on this team. Buckingham, a former college All-American, has had success in two of the most competitive keelboat classes in sailing, the Etchells and, more recently, the Star. He's also a five-time national champion in the Lehman 12 class. He's no stranger to crowded starting lines and mark roundings. Boat partner Skip Beck also has extensive sailing experience, including competing in the defender trials for the 1980 America's Cup.

"It's been a little bit of a herding-cats exercise putting the crew together with all the schedule changes due to the pandemic, but everyone is keen to get on the water," says Buckingham. "For a number of us on the boat, this will be our first time on an IC37, so we expect a steep learning curve early on. But with each practice day or race day, hopefully, our familiarity with what makes the boat go improves along with coordinated crew work."

Racing in Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex will take place on Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound, starting on Wednesday, September 23, and running through Saturday, September 26.

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