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New York Yacht Club Race Week at Newport Presented by Rolex

15July2012_new_york_yacht_clubPhoto by Rolex / Daniel Forster

15-July-2012. If the rest of the New York Yacht Club Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex goes as well as this weekend did, there will be hundreds of very satisfied sailors telling their tales of joy next weekend, when the split-format regatta is scheduled to officially conclude.  For the past two days (July 14-15), the Weather Gods have aimed to please and succeeded by delivering sunshine and sound breezes, which allowed 28 visually arresting vintage yachts to engage in lively battles for victory in six classes (two for handicap-rated Classics, one each for 12 Metres of Modern, Grand Prix and Traditional makes, and one for Herreshoff S Boats).  When all was said and done--for this weekend, anyway—the skipper of the S Boat Osprey, Michael McCaffrey (Newport R.I.), claimed overall honors for best performance in Race Week’s first half and a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner to wear on his wrist as a symbol of the distinguished level of excellence he had achieved.

“This honor is special not only for me but also for the S Class in general,” said McCaffrey, “because we were the strongest fleet here, and that demonstrates every owner’s love for their boat. It is an up-and-coming class, even though it’s almost 100 years old--it’s enjoying a renaissance of sorts.”

McCaffrey had to contend with nine other S Boats, which were among a total of 104 S Boats designed by the great Nathanael Herreshoff and built between 1919 and 1942 (96 of those in Bristol, R.I.) to be lovingly passed on and rebuilt or restored through the decades hence. In fact, McCaffrey restored Osprey in 2000, and it was bought from him shortly thereafter by Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who was crewing aboard for the racing this weekend.  The boat had been commissioned by Whitehouse's grandfather in 1936, so it was a compelling reason for the Senator to reacquire it for his family after the boat had seen multiple owners.

Going into today, Osprey was one point behind Argument, skippered by Stephan Sloan (Greenwich, R.I.), and after today’s first race—in which Osprey won with only 30 seconds to spare over Argument--the two were tied with eight points apiece.

“At the start of the second race, Argument was hunting us down in a fairly aggressive manner,” said McCaffery.  “We were just trying to stay clear, and after we started on port tack at the windward end of the line, we were able to cross the fleet on starboard on a lucky shift. Argument got caught up with Aguila after that and had to do penalty turns, so it was over for them after that.”

With Argument safely out of the way and eventually finishing in seventh for the race and third overall, Osprey cruised on to win its second race of the day and clinch its overall prize. Whitehouse called Argument’s daring moves “lethal” in the end, but he also proclaimed that McCaffrey had “nailed it” with his skippering skills all weekend.

"They are really sporty little boats that turn on a dime,” said McCaffery, “and there is some good close action. It is very tight racing, which is good for the adrenaline."

Extremely close racing was also the call for the day in Class 3 where the top three boats shared the same score after today’s two races, and the overall winner had to be determined by a three-way tie breaker.  Fidelio, an S&S 39 skippered by Chuck Townsend (Middletown, R.I.) topped the score board after finishing 1-3, while the R Class 38 Ruweida, skippered by Joseph Huber (Wynnewood, Pa.) and the Luders 24 Belle, skippered by Joe Loughborough (Newport, R.I.) fell in line behind, with finish positions of 2-1 and 3-2, respectively.

“Coming into today, we knew who the competition was,” said Townsend. “For us, it was just a matter of staying with them.  For the whole series it was a matter of seconds-- not minutes--that separated the finishes, so it was incredibly close racing and a lot of fun.

Townsend explained that Fidelio was designed off the exact same sail plan as the famous Sparkman & Stephens wooden race boat named Finisterre and built in Germany in 1956.  “When I found her I knew what her DNA was, and though she had never really been raced, she was very sound and had a racing pedigree, so we rebuilt her and set her up with new rigging, sails and a fast bottom. The old wooden boats are such special things; they are like sailing beautiful furniture with all the attendant rewards that you get from that.  Fidelio is 56 years old, and she is something that I am only the current owner of.  I'm the current owner of this beautiful wooden boat that by heritage is very fast.

The yachts in Class 2 sailed one long “navigator’s” race each day, and veteran Narragansett Bay sailors agreed that the courses took them to places they hadn’t seen before. The Custom S&S 53 Sonny, owned by Joe Dockery (Newport) prevailed to win today’s race, toppling the 8 Metre Angelita (owned by Sam Croll and Henry Skelsey  of Greenwich, Conn.) from the lead it had established by winning yesterday’s race.

“We knew we had to win today to win the regatta, and a second wouldn't cut it," said Sonny’s tactician Simon Davidson (Newport).  "We sailed a little bit more conservatively today with a little less focus on current and more focus on the breeze. We have a great crew that is committed to the program, and the crew is what it really comes down to."

Sonny, a cutter sloop built in 1935, was hit by a German submarine in the War, then refloated and repaired, while Angelita won sailing’s Olympic Gold Medal in 1928.

In the 12 Metre racing, Modern Class, Dennis Williams (Hobe Sound, Fla.) posted two victories today and three total in his four-race score line to give his Victory 83 a three-point overall lead over Jack Curtin’s (New York, N.Y.) Intrepid.  Yesterday’s leader in Traditional Class, American Eagle, owned by Herb Marshall (Barnstable, Mass.), finished 2-2 today to Alain and Dan Hanover’s (Weston, Mass.) Columbia, which won both races today and replaced American Eagle at the top of the scoreboard.  The Grand Prix Class saw Kip Curren’s (Warwick, R.I.) Laura prevail to take victory over James Heckman’s (Arlington, Va.) USA 61, with which it had been tied on points going in to today. USA 61 had a gear failure in today’s single race held for that class and was unable to finish, settling for six points, while Laura claimed a total of four to win.

"Kip is very excited,” said Boat Captain Bennett Wickes (Newport) upon accepting the first-place trophy for Laura.  “He just purchased the boat (formerly Hissar) this year,  so it's a new boat for him with a new team.  Both days worked out perfectly; we loved racing boat-for-boat in Narragansett Bay."

The 12 Metres followed the J Boats as stars in the America’s Cup from 1958 to ’83 here in Newport and in Western Australia in 1987.

The New York Yacht Club Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex continues on Wednesday (July 18) with a 19-mile Around the (Conanicut) Island Race, which is optional and separately scored from Race Week’s “second half,” which runs from Thursday (July 19) through Sunday (July 22) and features a National Championship for Swan 42 class, a North American Championship for J/109s and a Northeast Championship for Beneteau First 36.7s.  Other classes competing will be IRC, J/111, J/105 and Melges 32.  Sailors with PHRF-rated boats will sail Navigator Races on the final Saturday and Sunday, using government marks and courses that emphasize navigational skills over around-the-buoys boat handling skills.