The 65th Commodore of the New York Yacht Club, Phil Lotz (Fort Lauderdale, FL/Newport, RI) has competed successfully in J/105s, Melges 32s, Etchells, Viper 640s and IC37s. He won two national championships on his Swan 42, Arethusa, and won the inaugural Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup. Phil currently owns a Gunboat 60 and has sailed and raced her extensively in New England and the Caribbean. He’s also an accomplished team racer.
WindCheck: When did you start sailing?
Phil Lotz: Probably at 8 or 9, in an 8-foot Dyer Dhow. We lived in Somerville NJ and took summer vacations in Lavallette on Barnegat Bay. Dad took me out in the Dyer until I could go out by myself.
Later the family moved to Sherborn, just outside of Boston. There was a lake called Farm Pond and a boating club of the same name. Dad bought a Sunfish, and when I was 14 I started racing it. To my surprise, I did really well! Only later in life did I realize that was in large part due to the fact that I was a skinny kid and there was no wind on that lake! Then we moved to Cazenovia, in upstate New York, where we raced Lightnings and Sunfish out of the Willow Bank Yacht Club. After junior year of high school, I got a call from Mike Hill, also from Cazenovia (who lives in Jamestown RI now) to become the assistant sailing instructor at Newport Yacht Club in the summer of ‘74. The following year, I started four years at Connanicut Yacht Club as head instructor.
WC: Who was your primary sailing mentor?
PL: Probably Bill Shore. (We’ve heard that before! – Ed.) I sailed a lot of Lightnings against him and learned a ton as he always shared. Bill gave me my first quality experiences in offshore racing. He brought me and a bunch of other kids from Newport to the SORC on Goodbye Girl, and again on one of the first J/40s with another Newport all-star team. Great experiences, not just for me but a lot of young sailors.
WC: Please tell us about the genesis of New York Yacht Club American Magic.
PL: We (the New York Yacht Club) were invited by Emirates Team New Zealand to watch the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda. I had not really planned on going. We spent time with the other challengers and as the event went on I realized, “Wow, the door could open for us to get involved.” But one thing that was – and is – abundantly clear is that we can’t do it like in the old days. The Club has matured. We now have fleets of boats (22 Sonars and now 20 IC37s), a Foundation, a very robust team racing calendar and other club racing activities, an expanded facility in Newport that hosts at least four major regattas every summer (usually closer to six) that welcomes sailors far beyond the membership!
The Club is very different than it was in 1983. Passing the hat across 3,500 people is not going to work. The opportunity we could support needed to come with a complete package. Then we got a call from Rob Ouellette and Terry Hutchinson, both members, who had a plan that included Hap Fauth, an NYYC member and Trustee, and Doug DeVos, who was becoming a member at that time, who could get behind it financially. My partner on all of this, Past Commodore David Elwell, Chair of our America’s Cup Committee, got heavily involved to craft an arrangement to work together. So, there are no “carpetbaggers” – it is a member-driven effort as opposed to a campaign with a Club tacked on.
We had five priorities: Number 1 was a team that could win. Number 2 was a team with like values, respect for the history of the Cup, and the history of the Club. Number 3 was that the campaign could not drain resources from the Club. Number 4 was that there had to be a mutual interest in filling the gap between the sailing “public” and the Cup in the U.S.. Number 5 was that we needed assurances from Emirates Team New Zealand that they were going to respect the Deed of Gift in respect to having clubs involved (it’s in the Deed).
It’s important to highlight that we are very committed to bringing the pubic “in” and that it’s a big job! We’re partnered with US Sailing, Oakcliff Sailing, IYRS, and Sail Newport, and we have Tucker Thompson touring the country giving presentations and Terry and many of us are doing the same, to kids and adults, to spread the word.
WC: So an all-U.S national team did not make that list?
PL: We signed up for other people’s rules…the Protocol, which is decided by the Defender and the Challenger of Record. This mandates that if you have Priority #1, to win, then you have to do everything you can to work within the time frame they have dictated…and with a brand new boat with a new concept that no one has ever sailed before. Because of that we rely on Terry’s relationships, which in some cases happen to be foreign. And of course, time is the thing you cannot buy and teamwork is built over time. It would be foolish to handcuff Terry. It would be totally against Priority #1 not to let Terry, Doug and Hap choose their team based on their last two decades of successful racing.
WC: What’s your role in the campaign?
PL: I’m a Board member for the legal entity for the Challenge, and the liaison between the Yacht Club and the Team. I’m partly responsible for member activation…making sure we’re presenting opportunities for involvement appropriately. I try and do my part as I mentioned before, working with the team to make connections with other clubs or organizations, and doing presentations.
WC: You’ve had great success at high levels of sailing, but this is your first America’s Cup. What’s been the biggest surprise?
PL: I was a little surprised about the depth of the AC bureaucracy; how many people have had career AC involvement, some of whom are on our team. I am pleasantly surprised how welcoming they and everyone else have been to the NYYC. These folks have a deep understanding of the history of the Cup and a strong affinity for the Club and are happy to see us involved.
WC: What have you learned from the Team Principals: Hap Fauth, Doug DeVos, and Roger Penske?
PL: I greatly appreciate that they are no-frills business guys that bring discipline to the spending decisions. Obviously Doug and Hap are not new to running big, winning grand prix sailing programs, and the fact that they have a history and mutual respect with Terry is great. Roger Penske is a jewel…a wonderful guy, and it’s not an overstatement to say he’s an American icon, in business as well as in sport. Roger is probably the most successful American team leader in a technical sport ever, if not in the world. The similarity between the sophistication in design, technical advancement and comparative methods from auto racing to sailing are obvious, and of course sailing has much to learn from the much larger industry that is auto racing. I believe the credit for the name of “The Mule” [American Magic’s 38-foot test boat] goes to Roger because that’s what he calls his test cars.
WC: We have to ask…IF we win, will it come to Newport?
PL: Spiritually, emotionally, yes. The overriding concern will be how we would go about running the best event – that really is the most important thing. But, yes, we all want to bring it to Newport.
WC: What about the impact on Rhode Island?
PL: What people may not realize is that we have one of the most sophisticated yacht building facilities in the world in Bristol. It’s fantastic to carry on that tradition, and there are world-class skill sets being employed and developed.
WC: We like to ask this question of all of our interviewees, but with you we’ll take a slightly different tack. What’s your advice for young WindCheck readers aspiring to be involved with an America’s Cup?
PL: Obviously you need to be a good sailor so keep sailing, but you need to do other things to learn the importance of teamwork. In sailing, be sure to get out of your Opti, get out of your 420, go down to the dock and get a ride for a Tuesday night race and watch the teamwork. Learn how to play on a team. The America’s Cup is a TEAM activity. Not to be trite, but you also have to stay in school and understand the technology. Any sophisticated vehicle has a ton of technology, and the America’s Cup is all about that.
WC: Thank you very much, Phil. We look forward to seeing the Cup back in the United States. Oh, who are we kidding? In Newport! ■
Special thanks to New York Yacht Club American Magic Communications Director Will Ricketson for facilitating this interview.