Time to Thrive

Yesterday’s breaking news about the venerable and much admired New York Yacht Club withdrawing from the 37th America’s Cup, since confirmed by the club’s Communications Director Stuart Streuli, was fearlessly broken by Tom Ehman – a proud club member no less since 1981. It was Pulitzer-level journalism, courageous and absolutely right to do.

©KOS Picture Source / www.kospictures.com

It’s the tough side of commentary and Tom’s ‘Sailing Illustrated’ show last night was one of his finest on so many levels. If you don’t watch it, you are missing out. Quite how he pulls together the bi-weekly show is award-winning in itself but covering difficult topics like when your club’s officers make such a seemingly catastrophic mess of custodianship (although I’m not so sure it is), is ground that many would fear to tread and shy away from. Credit where it’s due – he didn’t back down from the story.

And in the spirit of keeping onside to the Club whilst staying true to the story, Tom carefully proceeded through the facts and took the viewer on a journey of analysis before giving his overview of the state of the Cup. As someone who has been involved in more Cups than is healthy, he’s not impressed – as many aren’t. He framed the Club’s predicament and decisions well and offered supportive opinion of their decision. It was the correct stance and style to adopt.

Quite frankly, the Club is absolutely right to pull back and rest its troops and efforts from AC37. It’s going to be one ugly fight for the ewer in this cycle and very, very big guns are on the lawn, already firing, and leaping ahead.

©KOS Picture Source / www.kospictures.com

What’s clear to an outsider looking in is that the New York Yacht Club needs a giant reset. Back in the day I raced for the Club in a Viyella Cup and also in a Nation’s Cup and what struck me then and has stayed with me ever since was the member’s utter dedication to the sport, their can-do attitude, their professionalism and their welcoming warmth to a young, keen, racing sailor.

When I lived in New York in the 1990’s, I visited the Newport clubhouse and it was magical. The greatest real estate of any sailing club in the world and the welcome was exemplary. And it was active – you don’t join the club to sit in the bar – although that’s a pretty cool experience too.

©Sailing Energy / American Magic

And overnight, since the publication of my story ‘Phew York’ I’ve been contacted by members broadly in support of the club pulling out of the Cup in its current state. By extricating themselves they are able to duck on geo-politics if the venue goes to an Arabian state but more crucially they can avoid getting embroiled in the gathering clouds around the Challenger of Record status – a story that I have a horrible, horrible feeling is going to rear its ugly head again, and this time with teeth and money behind it. If not that, the Cup could well be headed to New Zealand courts on any number of issues. M’learned friends are circling.

The New York Yacht Club is squarely off the hook with a giant sigh of relief and that’s good stewardship by the Commodore and his committee, but can they survive into the final year of Culver’s term? That’s a big question. I hope so. There are many shipwrecks on the shore of the America’s Cup and what the Club would be wise to do is to close ranks, support its own, forget the Cup (for now) and classily move forward. The nominations committee will no doubt exert a calming influence and set some, perhaps unsaid but implied, pre-conditions and move swiftly on to what matters – sailing and yacht racing. They do that rather well.

©Melges IC37 Class Association

Commodore Culver is a big IC37 supporter, and a damned fine sailor in the class I’m told having won the final race in the recent IC37 National Championships in Newport, and with rumours of a big-money series being in the pipeline with a potential prize purse of some $1m, that’s a great thing for the Club and the Commodore to get behind and champion. If nothing else, it moves the narrative on and sets a course forward.

I still contend that an entry into SailGP would be the finest of all bounce-backs but that’s for the sailing committee to decide. An entry there would be a massive marker of future intent and provide a pathway for the enormous talent that the Club has coming through its ranks at the moment. Laying the foundations now will produce a mansion in a generation – and put the Club firmly in the Great Game where it absolutely belongs.

© Ricardo Pinto for SailGP

When the heat dies down and the Cup Protocol and venue are decided and the landscape of legal issues and challenges becomes clearer, we may well look back on this decision to withdraw by the NYYC with a very different lens.

High politics is much in evidence all over this Cup and what’s really going on behind the scenes is actually quite scary, depressing and obvious in equal measure. Self-interest is, as Dennis Conner famously said “running” and there’s position-taking all round. In this febrile atmosphere it feels like a small spark is going to set off a mighty explosion – it’s a car crash waiting to happen and the NYYC may have just avoided a bullet.

©KOS Picture Source / www.kospictures.com

It’s going to be an interesting watch over the coming months. I feel for the Club’s membership who must have little hair left to scratch but looking at it from a helicopter view, it’s a mighty institution and this whole debacle is just a footnote in its storied history that could well prove to be the smartest move of all time.

Time will tell. But the New York Yacht Club will survive and thrive – of that there’s no doubt.

12 thoughts on “Time to Thrive

  1. The COR status…

    How is the RYS(l) now suddenly an invalid or as has been stated on the TE show a FAKE yacht club.

    Or is there/this a different challenge to the COR status


    1. I don’t think it is “invalid” but I think it, and other issues that may appear in the Protocol, will get challenged – if to do nothing more than waste time and try to unsettle things. Pointless in my opinion but it’s the Cup James and you know it better than most…


  2. I share your admiration for the twice a week Sailing Illustrated show. It is worth pointing out that it is co-produced by Julia Wedekind who is a remarkable woman in her own right.

    I am normally a fan of your prose. However please re-read this: “In this febrile atmosphere it feels like a small spark is going to set off a mighty explosion – it’s a car crash waiting to happen and the NYYC may have just avoided a bullet.” You have sparks, explosions, car crashes and bullets all in one sentence. The metaphors could only have been more tortured at Guantanamo. I say this with a wink obviously.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I have many stories about Julia and her late husband Konrad (and TFE for that matter) that I can only share in person the next time you are in San Francisco.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It does also appear that the CoR challenge is a defacto DoG challenge and hence there can only be one challenger.

    Where on earth will they stage this challenge?


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