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Lovell, Southern Yacht Club Drive into the lead on day 2

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 Lovell, Southern Yacht Club Drive into the lead on day 2
Lovell, Southern Yacht Club Drive into the lead on day 2

NEWPORT, R.I. — It was just the sort of moment that the founders of the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup envisioned more than a decade years ago when they created the event. Two identical boats crewed by amateur sailors blasting downwind in the late afternoon sun each with their eye on first place in the race. Eastern Yacht Club had had the lead around the top mark, but The San Francisco Yacht Club crew, always at home in some breeze, was chewing into the advantage and looking for any opening to take over the lead. It would come down to the final jibe before a long port-tack run to the finish.
 
"We both didn't have great jibes," says Sean Bennett, the skipper of the San Francisco crew. "But we had a little better jibe that they did and we were able to fill and get going. Both of us were still in the late-main jibe mode, that flipped them over harder than us so we were able to get just enough ahead on them to get over the top of them and get by."

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Of course, that wasn't the end of the story, a drop in the windspeed or a slight shift to the left would've forced both boats to jibe again and allowed Eastern skipper Bill Lynn to repay the favor. But the breeze held and The San Francisco Yacht Club took its first win of the regatta, capping off a marked improvement over Day 1 and putting the team within range of the podium with six races remaining. Coming in third in that race was Southern Yacht Club, which had the best day on the water and vaulted into the lead with 21 points. Royal Thames Yacht Club and Royal Cork Yacht Club are tied for second, 9 points back. 

The Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup is a biennial regatta hosted by the New York Yacht Club Harbour Court in Newport, R.I. Since the event was first run in 2009, it has attracted top amateur sailors from 48 of the world's most prestigious yacht clubs from 21 countries. After five editions in the Swan 42 class, the 2021 event will be the second sailed in the IC37, designed by Mark Mills. The strict one-design nature of this purpose-built class combined with the fact that each boat is owned and maintained by the New York Yacht Club, will ensure a level playing field not seen in any other amateur big-boat sailing competition. The regatta will run from Saturday, September 11, through Saturday, September 18, with racing starting on Tuesday, September 14. A live broadcast on Facebook and YouTube, starting on Wednesday, September 15, will allow fellow club members, friends, family and sailing fans from around the world follow the action as it happens. Nineteen teams from nine countries will compete in 2021. The 2021 Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup is brought to you by title sponsor Rolex and regatta sponsors Helly Hansen and Hammetts Hotel.

The San Francisco Yacht Club was one of the teams that stepped in to fill the slots that opened when a handful of foreign teams were unable to travel due to COVID restrictions. Among the many challenges, was finding the time to practice together, ideally in an IC37. San Francisco's team is loaded with talent, but Bennett says they're still very much in learning mode in the IC37.

"We're getting more comfortable with the boat," said Bennett. "It's the first time we've raced it. Yesterday, in the bump, we struggled more trying to understand how to make the boat go fast.

"Today [was better] with the flatter water, a little more breeze on, which helps San Francisco people anyway. But we've generally been on a steeper learning curve in the light spots, and we're getting better understanding how to make big adjustments when the wind drops off."

With a second, 11th and first today, the SFYC team is now seventh overall. Despite missing out on the win in the final race, Eastern Yacht Club had a very strong day and is tied for fourth, two points out of second.

But the unquestioned boat of the day was Southern Yacht Club, with a fourth, first and third.

"Basically it was our teamwork," said Lovell, a four-time Olympian who won a silver medal in 2004. "Marcus [Eagan] did an incredible job with tactics. Rick [Merriman] was playing the main. Andrew [Eagan] was trimming the jib, and the team was really clicking today. I think mainly we just didn't make any big mistakes. We got off the line with clean starts, didn't miss any shifts and had great boathandling."
  
This is Lovell's third Invitational Cup. He called tactics when Southern won in 2017 and finished fifth in 2019. He's especially pleased to be on the helm this time around.

"It's been great, really enjoying it," he said. "It's actually a little less stressful to be driving than doing tactics in a way.

"I tried to look around a few times [today], and I got told I'm the driver, I just need to drive fast. That's what I've been concentrating on, just driving the boat as fast as I can drive it. Everyone's got their job and everyone does their job well, then the team does well."

Yacht Club Argentino wasn't able to move up in the overall standings, but the event's lone Southern Hemisphere team still found reason for optimism as it closed the first half of the regatta with a seventh.

"The last race today was the windiest one, we could sail as fast as we wanted to," said skipper Emilio Miguel. "Honestly, compared to the rest of the fleet, we weren't slow. Even yesterday, I think we were fast. We made a lot of unforced errors. Yesterday, for example, in the second race, we could've been first or second to the first mark. We ended up third, and then we were penalized and it was a disaster, it all went down from there."

In today's first race, they passed seven boats on the final run, and then put it together for a top-10 in the third race.
 
"The last race was our best result yet, a seventh," he said, "so we're pumped for tomorrow."

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