By Brooke Thomson
In its four-year lifespan, the annual Baldwin Cup has continued to expand in numbers and talent, drawing a tough fleet of competitors for this year’s incarnation.
It’s fair to say that the team racing is sort of like the NASCAR of sailboats, and the Baldwin Cup one of the biggest events in non-collegiate team racing. Thus, the auto race-style banner that flew from the Newport Harbor Yacht Club mast last weekend. And with its quirky 4-vs-4 boats format (team racing is usually 3-vs-3 boats), racing Harbor 20s, and other factors particular to Newport Harbor, it’s definitely a regatta that takes a bit of getting used to for the participants.
The race committee gracefully dealt with several postponements and unpredictable weather.
Most racers and regatta management were shaken by the freak hailstorm early the first morning. Royal Thames Yacht Club, which had traveled here from England, at first put on a blasé attitude about the weather, claiming it was still warmer than any sailing they had done recently, but most of the regatta was shocked.
Still, the regatta got under way the moment there was enough breeze to get a race off.
Friday’s racing ended late and rolled straight into NHYC’s Burger Bash even while unrigging boats. A Budweiser truck parked in the boatyard helped loosen things up for an evening debrief and a chance for sailors to converse with judges about the nuances of team racing.
In the thoughtful words of one competitor the dangerous thing about this was that, “I came off the water parched and instead of getting a glass of water, I ended up drinking five beers instead … I might be dehydrated.”
After the Burger Bash had ended, sailors stayed in The Pirate’s Den well past midnight with a sense of team racing camaraderie. Eventually, Royal Thames admitted that they were actually taken aback by the chilly Californian weather.
The results of Friday’s racing were as unpredictable as the weather. Last year’s victor, New York Yacht Club, was 3rd at the end of the first day. Meanwhile, Seattle Yacht Club and St. Francis Yacht Club were taking the regatta away with strong 1st and 2nd places.
However, the second round robin on Saturday would prove to be much more competitive, as the teams had warmed up with a day and a half of racing and gauging what they were up against. The second round robin also would determine a lot more about who would make it in the finals. While each win counted for 1 point in the first round robin, each win counted as 1½ in the second round robin.
This meant that teams who did poorly in the first set of races could quickly recover with wins in the second round.
It didn’t take long. Through the second round robin, NYYC adeptly climbed the round robin ladder to reclaim their standing in first. For regatta chairman Adam Deermont, this wasn’t a big surprise.
“A lot of the better teams usually start a little behind and come into the top places later in the regatta,” he noted.
Knowing this was one reason to choose the race format that favored teams that did well in the second round robin instead of the first.
After an exhausting day of racing on Saturday and with results starting to get tight, sailors hurried to rinse the salt off before getting dressed for the regatta’s coat-and-tie banquet. The Banquet lived up to its reputation from previous years, to say the least. While each team started at separate tables, it wasn’t long before it was hard to tell who was on which team. Standout moments included three Baldwin Cup traditions: a toast that included everyone chugging a beer while standing on their chairs, a circulating hat where whoever has the hat owes the previous possessor a kiss, and everyone sharing three jokes with the room.
By Sunday the regatta had become all about the Final Four round. It is common in team race regattas to only do the final round on Sunday, as it determines the winner and is also a short round that allows time for a trophy ceremony and for sailors to catch their flights or get home that night.
The final four teams were NYYC, Newport Harbor Orange, Newport Harbor Blue, and Seattle Yacht Club. In the final races, NYYC secured 1st place by winning against Newport Harbor Orange, which placed 2nd overall. Meanwhile, Newport Harbor Blue raced Seattle Yacht Club, which put the teams in 3rd and 4th, respectively.
The trophy ceremonies for NYYC were quite festive with well-deserved champagne on the docks and NYYC’s girl-crew being carried on top of the Baldwin Cup itself.