The last weekend of July, in Newport, R.I., traditionally means one thing: Folk Fest. At the height of summer, the legendary music festival takes over Fort Adams State Park, and the surrounding waters, for three days of music and social harmony. When the sea breeze comes in, the music filters across the harbor and into downtown Newport.
For members of the New York Yacht Club’s team racing squad, however, the melodic sounds of Jason Isbell, Lana Del Rey and Billy Strings, among many others, came a distant second this year to the sharp blasts of an airhorn, the flapping of crisp sails through a tack and the terse verbal cues integral to a heated team race. August is team racing season at the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court, and with the home team setting its sights on winning the Morgan Cup for the first time since 2015, the last weekend in July was dedicated to a grinding two-day practice session. The Morgan Cup starts on Friday, August 4, and runs through Sunday. August 6.
“We’ve underperformed the past five years, and the consensus on the team is that we don’t get enough time to practice together, and we don’t get enough time on the water,” says Pete Levesque, a 14-time Morgan Cup competitor who will skipper for one of the two New York Yacht Club entries. “We’re trying to solve that.”
The New York Yacht Club helped usher in a new era of adult team racing with the creation of the New York Yacht Club Invitational Team Race Regatta for the Commodore George R. Hinman Masters Trophy in 2000. That race, which requires skippers to be at least 45 years of age and crew to be over 40, was soon followed by the New York Yacht Club Invitational Team Race Regatta for the Morgan Cup, an all-ages event, in 2003 and, in 2010, the New York Yacht Club Grandmasters Team Race Regatta, which mandates skippers be at least 60 years of age and crew at least 50. The three team races are traditionally held over consecutive weekends in August at the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court, using the Club’s fleet of 22 Sonar keelboats, and annually attract some of the best adult team racers in the United States and Europe. New York Yacht Club Regatta Association sponsors for 2023 include Helly Hansen, Hammetts Hotel and Safe Harbor Marinas.
At the scholastic and collegiate level, team racing typically involves six sailors per team. Adult team racing in 23-foot Sonar keelboats doubles that, making cohesive team work significantly more elusive. And that’s before factoring in the challenge of organizing practice when everyone works for a living. The last two winners of the Morgan Cup—Corinthian Yacht Club in 2021 and Eastern Yacht Club in 2022—both hail from Marblehead, Mass., and benefitted from being able to schedule regular weeknight practices during the summer.
While the New York Yacht Club has a large pool of talented team racers from which to draw, the geographic diversity of the membership makes it challenging to gather a dozen sailors in one place at one time. The past weekend of practice was something of a rarity for the New York Yacht Club team. While it’s no guarantee of success this coming weekend, it certainly won’t hurt.
“It takes a little while to figure out personalities, and we have had a lot of turnover in the past few years,” says Levesque (at left, facing camera). “I don’t think we’ve entered the same Morgan Cup team once in the past five or six years, maybe even longer. It all comes back to just getting time together and time on the water. We had these chalk talks last weekend, a lot of it was getting on the same page with the fundamentals.”
The weekend of practice aside, the list of favorites for the Morgan Cup in 2023 still starts with Eastern and Corinthian, who have taken the top two spots each of the past two years. Levesque’s New York Yacht Club teams finished third in 2021 and fourth in 2022. San Diego Yacht Club and St. Francis Yacht Club should also be included as they combined to win four straight Morgan Cup regattas from 2015 and 2019.
For the Hinman Trophy, it’s a different story; New York Yacht Club won in 2022 for the first time since 2014 and will be looking to become the first repeat champion since Noroton Yacht Club in 2016. In the Grandmasters Team Race, Texas Corinthian Yacht Club from Kemah, Texas, is the two-time defending champion.
When Texas Corinthian (at right) won for the first time two years ago, team captain Clark Thompson was asked how the tiny club, with just 160 members, had made its way to the top of the podium.
“We have a big team and we’re able to practice a lot with the weather in Texas,” said Thompson. “That helps a lot.”
New York Yacht Club Invitational Team Race Regatta for the Morgan Cup, August 4 to 6: Bristol (R.I.) Yacht Club; Corinthian Yacht Club (Marblehead, Mass.); Eastern Yacht Club (Marblehead, Mass.); Larchmont (N.Y.) Yacht Club; New York Yacht Club; Newport Harbor Yacht Club (Newport Beach, Calif.); San Diego Yacht Club; Seawanhaka Yacht Club (Oyster Bay, N.Y.); and St. Francis Yacht Club (San Francisco).
New York Yacht Club Invitational Team Race Regatta for the Commodore George R. Hinman Masters Trophy, August 11 to 13: Eastport (Md.) Yacht Club; Larchmont Yacht Club; New York Yacht Club; Noroton Yacht Club (Darien, Conn.); Seawanhaka Yacht Club; Southern Yacht Club (New Orleans); and St. Petersburg (Fla.) Yacht Club.
New York Yacht Club Grandmasters Team Race Regatta, August 18 to 20: Annapolis (Md.) Yacht Club; Gamla Stans Yacht Squadron (Sweden); Larchmont Yacht Club; New York Yacht Club; Newport Harbor Yacht Club; Southern Yacht Club; St. Francis Yacht Club, Storm Trysail Club (Larchmont, N.Y.) and Texas Corinthian Yacht Club (Kemah, Texas).