Defender at the Newport Trophy Regatta. (Photo credit: Stephen Cloutier)
Ten historic 12 Metres are sailing their North American Championship off Newport, R.I. over Sept. 22 -24 and promising a spectacular finish to their 2017 sailing season. The event, along with the METREFEST Newport, Newport Trophy and Edgartown Race held earlier this summer, counts toward points collected in the ROAD TO THE WORLDS Waypoint Series that leads to the next 12 Metre Worlds, scheduled for Newport in 2019.
“The game’s afoot,” said Event Chair Peter Gerard who also is Vice President of the Americas Fleet and spearheads the ROAD TO THE WORLDS program. “Everyone is ramping up for the Worlds, and it’s very exciting that we have several new revitalized and/or completely restored boats joining the Americas Fleet and adding depth to the competition as well as the rich history of the 12mR class.”
Ranging in length between 65 and 75 feet, the Twelves – as they are fondly called – are best known as the America’s Cup yachts sailed during the “Golden Era” of that event, which filled the years between 1958 and 1987. Since the America’s Cup was held in Newport from 1930 to 1983 and many of the Twelves now call Newport their home, these yachts are dear to the hearts of locals as well as sailing aficionados worldwide, remembered for their intriguing designs, keenly competitive teams and famous skippers, which included Americans Ted Turner and Dennis Conner.
This year’s North American Championship fleet will be hosted by Ida Lewis Yacht Club and docked, just like back in the day, at Bannister’s Wharf for viewing while not racing. The teams of 14 to 16 will compete in three divisions – Grand Prix, Modern and Traditional – from Friday through Sunday, and courses are planned for Rhode Island Sound and upper Narragansett Bay.
With course signals at 10:55 each morning of racing, landlubbers who go to Bannister’s Wharf between 0900-1030 will have the best chance of seeing the 12s “docking out.”
Re-introduced to the sailing scene earlier this year, Defender (US-33), Challenge XII (KA-10), and Freedom (US-30) will bring the count of Twelves sailing in the Modern Division at the North Americans to five. The division is rounded out by longstanding favorites Courageous (US-26) and Intrepid (US-22). Sailing for North American bragging rights in the Traditional division will be Columbia (US-16), Weatherly (US-17) and American Eagle (US-21), while in the Grand Prix division, defending champion New Zealand (KZ-3) will spar with Laura (KZ-5).
At an Awards Ceremony on Sunday afternoon at Ida Lewis Yacht Club, the Gubelmann Trophy will be awarded to the three division winners, while the Ted Hood Trophy will be awarded to the 12 Metre teams in each division with the highest points overall for the season.
Courageous is currently the top Americas Fleet contender in the Waypoint Series standings. Gerard expects 25 boats – more than half coming from outside North America – will compete in the 2019 12 Metre World Championship.
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Modern Fleet Strengthened with New Players
“With the addition of Defender, Challenge XII and Freedom to the Moderns, you can expect that division to be ultra-competitive,” said Gerard. “And next year when we have two additional Moderns on the line, as we’re expecting, it will be even more competitive.”
Freedom, designed by Olin Stephens and the last yacht to successfully defend the America’s Cup for the New York Yacht Club by defeating Australia in 1980, was completely overhauled by Charles Robertson (Guilford, Conn.). Freshly outfitted with new sails and a new crew, she made her debut at METREFEST Newport. Challenge XII, designed by Ben Lexcen for the 1983 America’s Cup, has been turning heads with her new refit and jet-black hull and sails. Her owner/driver, Jack LeFort (Jamestown, R.I.), proved his is the team to beat when he turned in a commanding victory at the Newport Trophy.
Defender, which was designed by Pedrick Yacht Designs and sailed in the Defender Trials for the 1983 America’s Cup, was this season’s early leader after having been saved from the scrap heap in 2010 and restored to racing form by Dennis Williams (Hobe Sound, Fla./Newport, R.I.). It was a tough decision for Williams to campaign Defender and bench his Victory ’83, which was the current 12mR class fleet, North American and World champion, but the long-game goal was to increase the size of the local fleet.
“We’re only guardians of these boats,” said Williams, who also owns a third 12 Metre, USA (US-49), which he hopes to also see racing again by the 2019 Worlds. “We leave them better than we found them and pass them along to others who we hope will do the same and continue to propagate the fleet.”