The Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup is a biennial regatta hosted at NYYC’s Harbour Court in Newport, R.I. Since the event was first run in 2009, it has attracted top amateur sailors from 51 of the world’s most prestigious yacht clubs from 22 countries. After five editions in the Swan 42 class, the 2023 event was the third sailed in the IC37. 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, will ensure a level playing field not seen in any other amateur big-boat sailing competition. Held September 9-16, of the 19 invited club teams, there were 12 ICOYC clubs on the starting line—and one would go on to win the event.
Participating ICOYC Clubs were San Diego Yacht Club, Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, Royal Swedish Yacht Club, Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, Royal Canadian Yacht Club, Royal Cork Yacht Club, Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, Yacht Club Punta del Esta, Southern Yacht Club, Norddeutscher Regatta Verein and Nylandska Jaktklubben.
In 2019 and 2021, Team SDYC finished the regatta in second and third at the 2019 and 2021 Invitational Cup’s. This year, they took the top spot, with skipper Tyler Sinks and crew Carissa Crawford, Max Hutcheson, Nick Martin, Rick Merriman, Al Pleskus, Adam Roberts, Robert Savoie, and Lucy Wallace.
The San Diego crew has many championships to its résumé and is a tight-knit group that goes back to youth sailing days. Sinks, Hutcheson and Martin have sailed the past two Invitational Cups and were part of the crew that won the 2018 Resolute Cup, which qualified San Diego for the 2019 Invitational Cup. Sinks and Wallace raced together at Boston College. Roberts and Martin put forth a 470 campaign for the 2012 Olympics. Merriman is something of an outlier, but he’s almost an essential ingredient if you’re aiming to win the Invitational Cup. This is the fourth time he’s won the Rolex NYYC Invitational Cup (previously 2009, ’17, ’21) and he’s the only sailor to win the Corinthian championship more than twice.
“Winning feels awesome,” said Sinks, a three-time collegiate All-American. “This is my third time doing this. We were second the first time, barely missed top spot, and came back two years ago and got third, so we felt there was one podium spot left to grab, and we got it.”
The final day of competition featured a lone race sailed in a 20-knot northerly, gusting to 25, in upper Narragansett Bay. Crews were required to reef the jibs and mains on the IC37s, and downwind the crews reported top speeds of 20 knots. The remaining racing was cancelled after the first race so that the fleet could be hauled for safety ahead of the passage of a rapidly approaching hurricane.
“It’s totally surreal. To win on a big breeze day, you can’t write that fairy tale script any better. We’re on cloud nine right now,” said Roberts, who was a four-time collegiate All-American. “We couldn’t be more thankful to get to sail together in such a premiere event with such amazing sailors all around us. To bring it all together is so much more meaningful for us.”
Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron cinched third place overall, Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club was fifth, just ahead of Royal Swedish Yacht Club. One additional ICOYC club finished in the top 10—Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, who put in a year-long effort for their ninth-place finish.
In 2021, Royal Vancouver Yacht Club put together a team loaded with veteran sailing talent, including a number of former Olympians. Finishing 12th place overall that year, combined with the team’s relentless enthusiasm for the event, earned the West Coast club a return invitation. With more time to plan, the club decided to integrate the Invitational Cup team into the club’s growing young adult sailing program.
“We’ve got a whole bunch of new Elliott 6s that we’re using as part of our training program,” said skipper Ben Mumford. “The yacht club has essentially put its own one-design fleet forward and we are using [the Invitational Cup] as the pinnacle of that program. For the selection series, we took all the Elliotts out, the crews competed against each other, the selection committee then selected a skipper, then the skipper selected the crew from the crew in the selection series.”
With the team selected, the next challenge was familiarizing the sailors to working on a boat twice as long as the Elliots. “We don’t have a similar platform [to the IC37] on the west coast to train on, so we’ve done a lot of cross training,” saoid Mumford. “There were a bunch of owners that donated their boats to us for training, Jason Vandergaag’s Schock 35, Bruce Chan’s J/111, and then Peter McCarthy’s TP52 are just some examples of what we’ve been able to go out and sail as a group to try and get ready for the event.”
The team brought their coaching staff with them and arrived three days early in order to fight off jet lag and spend some extra time sailing the IC37s ahead of the event. The work was worth it, landing them in the top 10 finishers.
The strong competitive spirit on the water transforms into camaraderie once all are ashore. Erstwhile rivals are like long-lost cousins attending a boisterous family reunion. “As much as we see the regatta as one of the best events in the calendar, we also appreciate the social aspect of it,” said Peter Backe, helmsman for the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club.