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Dark Energy aims to steal limelight from Melges IC37 establishment

by New York Yacht Club 9 Jun 20:22 PDT
Melges IC37 teams - 167th Annual Regatta © Stuart Streuli / NYYC

It was just one race, and an unconventional one at that. But with a class win in the Leukemia Cup last Saturday—the opening regatta of the 2021 Melges IC37 summer season — Laura Grondin's Dark Energy team inserted itself right in the midst of the conversation regarding teams to watch.

The primary goal of the Leukemia Cup is to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and support the fight against blood cancers. But coming a week before the 167th Annual Regatta, the Leukemia Cup also served as a final tune-up for the majority of the 16 Melges IC37 teams that will hit the starting this this coming weekend.

"I think we were particularly fast downwind," says Grondin, of West Hartford, Conn. "And I would in part credit the experience I had driving the Melges 32 and the Melges 24. I focus on keeping the boat moving and the angle of heel. I couldn't even have told you how fast we were going. That wasn't where my focus was."

The Annual Regatta was first sailed on the Hudson River on July 16 and 18, 1846. A similar competition the previous year was called a Trial of Speed. With a few exceptions for world wars and other global crises, the event has been held every year since. For the majority of its existence, the New York Yacht Club held its Annual Regatta on waters close to New York City. Since 1988, however, the event has been sailed out of the Harbour Court clubhouse in Newport, R.I., and has settled into the current three-day format, which includes a race around Conanicut Island on Friday and two days of buoy racing or navigator-course racing on Saturday and Sunday. The 167th Annual Regatta is sponsored by Hammetts Hotel, Safe Harbor Marinas and Helly Hansen.

Grondin isn't new to sailing, planing keelboats, or the IC37, but this is the first season she'll be skippering her own IC37 entry, chartered from the Club's fleet of 20 boats. She partnered with fellow member Michael Goldfarb during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, and steered in one race.

"It was a great experience to get on the boat and be a part of another team and see how they operate," says Grondin. "But at the end of the day, my preference is to be at the helm."

A new feature for the class this year is the presence of professional sailors. While the class's focus remains on Corinthian sailors, each team is permitted one paid expert. Grondin's team will be led by world match racing champion Taylor Canfield.

"Everybody knows he is a great match racer, and I've even learned a few match-racing tips here and there," says Grondin. "But what maybe people don't know is he is also a phenomenal leader and a fabulous coach. He has very high expectations for me and for everybody on the team, and he holds us to a high standard."

Among the 16 teams sailing in the Melges IC37 Class are a handful of crews aiming toward the New York Yacht Club's berth in the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup, which will take place this coming September. Because the rules for the Invitational Cup prohibit any professional sailors, these teams are made up solely of amateur sailors. The qualifying series will include the Saturday and Sunday of Annual Regatta, along with the class's North American championship in July.

"The level of competition has certainly risen with the option to add a pro sailor to each boat," says New York Yacht Club Commodore Christopher J. Culver (Newport, R.I). "And the fleet, top to bottom, is closer than it's ever been, which is positive."

Culver's Blazer II team had a strong year in 2020, winning the class in Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex and finishing third in the class's Nationals. But he's taking nothing for granted as this season kicks off.

"We have to improve from last year, we are more cognizant of the level of competition," he says. "We have to sail better, we have to be more consistent across the entire regatta. Each leg, each race is mission critical to our focus of trying to qualify for the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup."

Racing in the 167th edition of the Annual Regatta will start with the traditional lap of Conanicut Island on Friday, June 11. That race is scored separately from the weekend series, which features buoy or point-to-point racing for boats racing in one-design classes and under ORC, PHRF and classic-yacht rating formulas.

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