By Stuart Streuli
They won the first race and the last race, and the inaugural Melges IC37 National Championship, which was hosted by the New York Yacht Club at their Harbour Court clubhouse in Newport, RI September 27 – 29. But it was far from a routine regatta victory for the crew of the Members Only syndicate, which is led by NYYC members Jay Cross, Ben Kinney and Hannah Swett. Of course, nothing good ever comes easy at this level of the sport, which only made the win that much more significant.
“It’s an honor, it’s a real thrill,” said Cross, who steered the boat for this regatta. “Nobody knew anything when they were starting out; the class was new, the boats were new, the crews were new to each other. To get through the whole season and pull it together at the very end is very satisfying and a lot of fun.”
The Melges IC37 is an innovative 37-foot one-design raceboat created by the New York Yacht Club. The class provides thrilling racing in equally matched, high-performance boats with minimum hassle. The strict class rules specify one-design sails, standardized rig tune, and coed, amateur crew. The club purchased the first 20 boats and charters them to members through a concierge racing program that provides a top-flight racing experience for a reasonable price and without the logistical challenges of owning a boat. Of the 20 competitors in the 2019 Melges IC37 National Championship, 17 were participants in the Club’s charter program. More information about the class can be found at melgesic37class.com.
After an all-but-flawless start to the regatta – a first, two seconds and a third, respectively, in the first four races – the Members Only team hit a few speed bumps and found themselves with work to do in the final race, sailed on Rhode Island Sound under bright sun and unseasonable warm temperatures. As the race committee and the fleet waited for the breeze to shift from the north to the southeast and solidify, the Members Only team reviewed their options for the final race.
“[Tactician Steve Benjamin] was saying all day, ‘Let’s not worry about the numbers,’” said Cross. “After the first two races didn’t go so well, we got the scores out and figured out the numbers. But we still knew we had to have a great race. When the wind came in from the southeast, it had some punch to it. It was a really exciting last race, in hard-charging IC37 conditions.”
If they won the race, they won the regatta. But, due to the specifics of the regatta’s tie-breaking procedure, a finish of second or worse would require the team to put at least one boat between themselves and Chris Lewis’ Qubit team to ensure the win. There were also a handful of other teams waiting to pounce if the top two each had poor races.
Cross and crew had a strong start and were able to play their favored right side. Halfway up the first leg, the team was positioned comfortably in the lead and able to eliminate much, if not all, of the drama from the regatta. Members Only won the race after leading around all three turning marks. Chris Lewis’ team put in a strong effort in the final race, finishing fourth, which placed them solidly in second for the regatta.
The National Championship is the final event of the inaugural summer season for the Melges IC37 class. While a fleet of privately-owned boats will head south for a winter series in Fort Lauderdale, the New York Yacht Club’s fleet of 20 boats will go into a shed at New England Boatworks in Portsmouth, RI until springtime. Cross, a veteran of sailing campaigns in many boats, was effusive in his praise for the charter program.
“I think the program is fantastic,” said Cross. “The idea that you can have such great racing for an affordable price, but also such low hassle. Organizing nine crew isn’t easy, but short of that you avoid a lot of the other headaches involved with owning a big boat. You can’t ask for any more from a club race program. To start [the season] with a win and finish with a win was as good or better than we’d hoped to do. We’d hoped to win the trials for the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup, but you can’t do everything. From our point of view, the program exceeded our expectations.” Complete results are posted at YachtScoring.com. ■
Stuart Streuli is the New York Yacht Club’s Director of Communications.