With its gleaming black hull and black sails, Jack LeFort’s Challenge 12 (above, center) was a striking addition to Newport’s growing 12 Metre fleet last season. While the boat will look the same when it kicks off its 2018 campaign at the New York Yacht Club’s 164th Annual Regatta, LeFort says that there are some key changes hiding behind the shiny livery and carbon-fiber sails.

“It was in fairly good shape when we bought it,” says LeFort, of the yacht, which served as the trial horse for Australia II during the 1983 America’s Cup. “Last year the goals were to sail it and get to know it. We painted it and got new sails. This winter we went through some pretty major changes. We have some new appendages. We moved the mast position. We’re hoping this year is sort of a breakout year relative to where the boat was last year.”

The Annual Regatta is North America’s oldest annual sailing event. It was first run in 1845 on the Hudson River and has been sailed out of the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court, in Newport, R.I., since 1988. The 164th edition will include an around-the-island race on Friday, June 8, and then buoy or navigator-course racing for one-designs and yachts sailing under IRC, ORR, CRF and PHRF handicapping systems on Saturday and Sunday, June 9 and 10. The 164th Annual Regatta is sponsored by AIG Private Client Group.

Like many of the 12 Metre teams currently sailing in Newport, LeFort and his crew have set their sights on the class’s world championship in Newport in 2019. To account for the evolution of the class during its long history, 12 Metre yachts are grouped by vintage, racing boat-on-boat within each division. The Modern 12s, which includes boats that participated in the America’s Cup in the 1970s and early 1980s, will have a fleet of four boats sailing in the Annual Regatta. Each has been updated with modern hardware and sails and modified within the bounds of the class rule.

“It’s a development rule,” LeFort says. “As tightly as they’re measured, you can do some fun stuff, and it doesn’t take too much to separate them. We thought a lot about it and did a lot of work with North Sails this winter. We’re hopeful we’ve made the right decisions.”

Vince McAteer’s Summit 35 Divided Sky (left) is just eight years old and not yet in need of any significant cosmetic surgery. But he is still eager to get out on the water and see if his off-season improvements will bear fruit this coming summer.

“The Annual Regatta is our first major event of the year,” says McAteer (East Greenwich, R.I.). “We have done a lot of work with Quantum Newport this spring to really unlock the potential of the Summit 35. This event is always a great benchmark to see how our early season preparation has developed.”

At the Annual Regatta, McAteer will be racing in the growing PHRF Navigator class, which features longer courses set around government marks.

“We do so much windward-leeward racing during the week and at other events; it’s refreshing to have the opportunity to sail in a navigator-style race,” he says. “This type of racing gives us the opportunity to race around our home waters and take advantage of the unique features of Narragansett Bay.”

While the IRC division, which features windward/leeward courses and numerous mark roundings, is generally regarded as the playground of the more serious competitors at Annual Regatta, McAteer takes nothing for granted in PHRF. Just because the mark roundings are less crowded and a little quieter doesn’t mean winning is any easier.

“Every team on the scratch sheet has what it takes to be on the podium,” he says. “Last year the key to winning our class was to get away from the starts clean and pay close attention to the tide. I would expect nothing different this year.”

New Overall Trophies for Around-the-Island Race

The race track for Friday’s circumnavigation of Conanicut Island is just 19 miles long. But it delivers a full menu of tactical challenges, from the enigmatic tidal flows in the West and East Passages of Lower Narraganset Bay, the tricky ocean swells off Beavertail and the numerous geographically-influenced windshifts, which are unique to each wind direction. It requires constant focus from the trimming and tactical teams and a good dose of local knowledge.

This year, the regatta will award an overall trophy for the best corrected time under the three handicap rules that will have more than one division in the race: IRC, PHRF and Classics.

“We’re very excited to offer overall trophies for Friday’s Around-the-Island Race for the three biggest rating rules in use during the Annual Regatta,” says David Bush-Brown, the event chairperson. “With each boat sailing the same course, this is a rare opportunity for local family-based programs to go head-to-head with some of the top professional sailing teams in the United States.”

Awards for the Around-the-Island Race will be handed out at the AIG Awards Party on Friday evening at Harbour Court. Awards for the two-day weekend series will be distributed on Sunday. On Saturday, after racing, upwards of 800 competitors, family and friends will gather at Harbour Court for the Annual Regatta Dinner. This social event is one of the highlights of each Newport sailing season.

Photo Credits: © SallyAnne Santos/Windlass Creative, Stuart Streuli, ROLEX/Daniel Forster
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