Amidst all the lamentations about losing the America’s Cup to San Francisco, I can’t help thinking that the loss might actually have a positive impact on Newport as a sporting place to race. Already, local yacht clubs have introduced new races to recognize the sailing achievements of amateurs with a healthy love of the sport and the competition.
I must disclose here that I am singularly unqualified to comment about yacht racing having been afflicted from an early age with serious motion sickness. (I even wear a patch to ski!). Still, as a native Rhode Islander, I have been surrounded by boats and sailors all my life, and I understand how much they contribute to the character and the economy of Newport, Jamestown, Bristol and the other coastal communities of RI. Like most everyone else who lives here, I was hopeful that the America’s Cup would return “home” to Newport, but the enormous resources that would have been spent on the America’s Cup may now go toward activities that perpetuate the sport in a more inclusive way.
Take for example the recent U.S. Qualifying Series of the New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup. No professionals were allowed to compete in this one-design race creating an unusually level playing field. The format had such wide appeal that entries expanded from two – St. Francis of San Francisco and The New York Yacht Club of Newport – to twenty-four enthusiastic crews from yacht clubs all over the country. Sail Newport, a local non-profit sailing school, lent their support by providing extra boats to accommodate everyone. The result was a fantastic week of competitive sailing and a new event emphasizing skill, camaraderie, competition and sportsmanship. Bill Lynn, skipper of the winning Eastern Yacht Club team (Marblehead, Mass.) had this to say about the field, “There are so many good sailors here it’s ridiculous.” Peter McChesney, second place winner from Annapolis Yacht Club, commented, “The whole philosophy of the regatta is fantastic. It’s an honor to come to this race.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I would love to have seen the return of the America’s Cup to Newport. It would have been exciting, and Newport would have enjoyed tremendous exposure not to mention an economic shot in the arm. But as a sailing venue, Narragansett Bay is among the very best in the world, and that wonderful advantage is what will keep Newport churning out great talent and good sport before, during and after the America’s Cup.