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Dueling defending champions prepare for eighth Rolex Invitational Cup

by Stuart Streuli, New York Yacht Club 26 Jan 2023 07:45 PST September 9-16, 2023

The seventh edition of the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup, held in September 2021, had nearly everything a great one-design regatta should have: tremendous competitors, great social events, a polished race committee, fabulous sailing conditions and evenly matched boats. But it was missing one thing, a defending champion.

"We were very disappointed that we couldn't defend our 2019 win as we were not allowed to leave Australia during the Covid lockdowns," says Guido Belgiorno-Nettis of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. "Of course, we watched the 2021 Invitational Cup with fascination, jealousy and frustration. Sitting on the couch, my team were sure we could have given the 2021 competing teams a good run for their money. But I know that reality will set the record straight when we turn up at the start line in 2023. Then the talk stops and the action will begin."

So the 2021 event's loss will be a gain for the eighth edition, scheduled for September 9 to 16. Among the 20 prestigious yacht clubs that will toe the line for Corinthian sailing's premiere event will now be two teams hoping to carry forward the momentum from the last time they competed in this event: Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron and Southern Yacht Club from New Orleans, which claimed the title in 2021.

The Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup is a biennial regatta hosted by the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court in Newport, R.I. Since the event was first run in 2009, it has attracted top amateur sailors from 48 of the world's most prestigious yacht clubs from 21 countries on six continents. After five editions in the Swan 42 class, the 2023 event will be the third sailed in the IC37, designed by Mark Mills. The strict one-design nature of this purpose-built class combined with the fact that each boat is owned and maintained by the New York Yacht Club, ensures a level playing field not seen in any other amateur big-boat sailing competition. The regatta will run September 9 to 16, with racing starting on Tuesday, September 12. A live webcast of the regatta will allow fellow club members, friends, family and sailing fans from around the world follow the action as it happens. Twenty teams from 15 countries will compete in the 2023 Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup, which is brought to you by title sponsor Rolex and regatta sponsors Helly Hansen

Much to the delight of their enthusiastic membership, Southern Yacht Club has become something of a juggernaut at the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup with two wins sandwiched around a fifth-place finish in the past three editions. John Lovell has been one of the constants. He called tactics in 2017 and 2019 and steered the boat in 2021.

"We have a big group that is very excited for the Invitational," says Lovell, who won a silver medal in the Tornado class at the 2004 Olympics. "We are working on a budget and practice schedule."

Both skippers agree that continuity is essential for success in the Invitational Cup. The IC37 is a challenging boat to sail well, and the unique format of the regatta hasn't traditionally been kind to rookie teams. For the Royal Sydney team, it's particularly acute since there are currently no IC37s in the Southern Hemisphere and the distance between Sydney and Newport prohibits the team from taking advantage of practice opportunities during the upcoming summer regatta schedule.

"Fortunately for our competitors, our team have not done any racing together since the 2019 Invitational," he says. "We will just step on the IC37 [in September] looking to do only one thing—have fun among ourselves as a team while enjoying the fabulous camaraderie shared by the New York Yacht Club and all the competing invitational teams from the United States and around the world."

While yacht clubs take this event very seriously, often investing significant time and money into training in advance of the regatta, staying true to the Corinthian nature of the Invitational Cup remains a priority. The participants are all amateur sailors taking time away from work and family responsibilities to compete, and the regatta is known as much for its competitive sailing as the amazing camaraderie ashore each evening.

"I think the key is sailing as much as possible but keeping it fun," says Lovell. "I try to sail in many different classes and in as many local events as I can race in."

While Southern and Royal Sydney may have the pedigree of being the only two clubs to win an Invitational Cup sailed in the IC37s, they are far from the only clubs with a strong chance of winning the trophy. Of the 20 clubs, 19 have previously competed in the regatta and many will be sailing in IC37 events this coming summer to prepare. There's every reason to believe that the eighth edition of the regatta will be the most competitive yet.

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