New New York

The news, crackling and fizzing over the Atlantic airwaves like a pre-war ham radio station, that the Commodore of the New York Yacht Club will not be in situ for much longer is a harsh lesson in communications for one the most storied sailing clubs in the world.

There are any number of explanations out there – Commodore Chris Culver isn’t standing, is resigning, is not seeking nomination, will be nominated and then will immediately resign…pick your poison, the airwaves are feint. And the reasons are getting more varied by the hour – it’s a coup, the membership had enough, there are characters on the sub-committees eyeing the main chance, he was stabbed in the back, he chose to do it off his own back – yada yada yada.

Chris Culver (Left) ©Rolex / Daniel Forster

Whatever the truth, and however it’s spun, it’s looking highly likely that the process to appoint and anoint a new Commodore is well under way. The Club has been through the ringer on this one and stability is what the members are seeking.

Over the weekend my inbox tide has gradually risen as polite and esteemed people connected with the Club wrote elegant prose about the situation and the overall state of their beloved institution – what connects them all is a desire for clarity and transparency of decision making. Not one of them defended the decisions of the current committee, led by the Commodore and it has been an embarrassing time, it would seem, for those that took the trouble and time to express their opinion.

©Carlo Borlenghi

Many members simply cannot see past the decision to jettison support for Terry Hutchinson who, by any measure, is a club treasure that epitomised the very tenets of the New York Yacht Club. The way he conducted himself in the America’s Cup was exemplary both when the team were flying high and looking like a dead cert for the Match and then when catastrophe struck.

Terry had the right tone, the right lines, the respect and the wisdom that resonated so strongly with the membership throughout that campaign and he represented the New York Yacht Club in the finest way imaginable. He deserved far, far better than a blunt rejection of his American Magic syndicate…what a choice he’d be for Commodore if they had the guts and the foresight to do it.

But the problem with wanting to be Commodore of a club, the very desire, is rather like those that seek high office in politics. The vast majority should be excluded from ever applying. The grander the Club, the more moving parts there are, the harder it is to command and control. Very few are equipped with the soft skills and killer innate instinct to do it effectively and when you throw in the murderous politics of the America’s Cup, it becomes a sink or swim appointment. The collective responsibility of committee-ship evaporates faster than a beer at a stag party as things start going awry and pretty quickly the one in the hot seat is dancing on hot coals. It’s not the place for snap decisions that leave observers scratching their heads. It needs effective, experienced communication and a smooth trajectory that the membership can understand.

©Dan Nerney

In cosying up to the nascent, unproven Stars + Stripes gang from Long Beach and then setting them a deadline to show traction in their ability to raise an un-Godly sum of sponsorship money, the New York Yacht Club signed its own warrant.

The rushed-out deal with Polo Ralph Lauren, unauthorised by the Club, and with some of the worst mis-step communications ever written in the Cup’s history (the press release stated that the Cup would be held next year) was the last straw. The Club was in crisis mode trying to contain loose cannon sailors and a membership that couldn’t face the embarrassment any longer. Something had to give.

Taylor Canfield & Mike Buckley of Stars + Stripes ©Musto / Matthew Brush

Sadly, and I say this honestly, it seems that Chris Culver is the fall-guy. A lifetime spent climbing through the sub-committee ranks, pressing the flesh, getting members’ support and hosting hundreds of dinners and lunches before getting the round approval from peers comes crashing down in flames. It’s not a nice experience that the Commodore is going through and the reminder will be there forevermore on the Commodore’s roster of a one year term. Tough and soul destroying in equal measure.

I have no doubt that the Club will move swiftly on and that the nominations machine will be in full flight identifying the next Commodore but now may be a very good time to go rudderless for a while and for a period of introspection. What does the next Commodore of the New York Yacht Club need to be like? What are the Club looking for? And what would not only stabilise the galleon but take it forward and set a tone for the next two or three appointments? Is it time to start looking outside of the rigid format of the greasy pole? A Lady Commodore perhaps?

©Studio Borlenghi

Whatever they choose, and whichever way they go, the Club will continue its relentless sailing schedule that encompasses all from the youths to the grand prix and everything, literally everything, in-between. It’s a busy place. It’s almost a multi-national corporate entity that requires a CEO. It will flourish and thrive but the next appointment is key in setting not only the direction but the ambition of America’s finest yachting institution.

The America’s Cup takes another scalp. It won’t be the last in this cycle.

Mark my words.

24 thoughts on “New New York

      1. Nah, PJ Montgomery I think is. Peter Lester & Martin Tasker were really good in VLC 2007.


  1. The nomination of a NYYC Commodore is much more complicate than this- you should commit in at least
    6/8 year ladder of full time job. Please read the Club “bylaws”.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, of curse, you know but not all the people that read your blog…Better to explain…The list of the next commodores is already there…


    1. I would apply but my lady, who is from New York reckons they wouldn’t understand my kiwi accent.

      (Did you know that Kiwis pronounce New Zealand without vowels, Sheesh there is a move to change to Aotearoa, which is pretty much all vowels)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You should be okay if you don’t ever say “I’ll do the math” to them, I don’t think the NYYC members would approve of that and especially not in the clubhouse. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. They may just add somebody at the and of the list and maybe in the committees…but all those positions are almost
    a full time job!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. First of all NYYC has no youth sailing and no programs that support youth sailing. It is strictly adults. This decision to jettison Terry and bring on Taylor and Mike was a Board decision not one of a single individual.


    1. As a member, you know that NYYC is not a local club where the youth lives and sailing programs for them thrive. Indeed, it has more international members than any club of which I am aware. Many members are also members at clubs in their community. The club is a mecca for young adult sailors who burnish their skills in the countless high level regattas conducted at great effort by volunteer members at NYYC. If you are criticizing the club, it need make no apologies for its contributions to the development of young talent. If you are simply commenting as a matter of fact, you are factually correct but I think our definitions of youth sailing differ.


      1. I agree. I sailed for NYYC at their very kind invitation when i was 16 and again when I was 18 and i sailed with fabulous sailors who were my age – yes perhaps not actually full-blown members at that point but certainly being encouraged by the club. I think the definition of ‘youth’ is loose – apologies if I gave that impression. It wasn’t meant to convey Optimist sailors!


      2. Not a criticism just statement of fact correcting the article’’s author. I’m also a member and feel the Club handled both situations poorly. I don’t feel all the blame lies with the Commodore.


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