Big Class or Small, Winning in ORC Will Be a Battle

Big Class or Small, Winning in ORC Will Be a Battle
Andrew Weiss, the skipper of the Italia 11.98 Christopher Dragon XII © Steve Cloutier

12 June, 2024 - Newport, R.I. — The four classes racing under the ORC rule at the 170th Annual Regatta break into two groups. Class A and Class B feature some of the country's elite big-boat programs, four 60- and 70-footers in former and four TP52s and a speedy new Botin ORC 45-footer in the latter. Pro sailors abound in these two classes, and optimal boat speed all the way around the track will be crucial. In Classes C and D, it's a different story. With 19 and 14 entries, respectively, getting off the line with a clean lane is going to be a supreme challenge. All the boat speed in the world isn't going to save your race if you start in the cheap seats and your first-beat tactical calls are dictated by a dozen boats sitting on your wind.

"We've had this boat two and a half years, and I think this is the most competitive class we've seen in ORC, and the tightest rating band,"
says Andrew Weiss (above), the skipper of the Italia 11.98 Christopher Dragon XII, which will sail in ORC D. "It’s great. [The time allowances for a one-hour race] are going to be down to between no time on our sistership to a minute an a half. It’s a good pre-cursor for the ORC World Championship in the fall."

For the preview two years, Andrew Berdon was often right in the middle of the fleet of 30- and 40-foot sailboats that makes up ORC C and D at the Annual Regatta. He sailed a J/111 named Summer Storm, doing a mix of distance and buoy races. For this summer, however, he's upgraded to a TP52 and will be lining up with the thoroughbreds in ORC B where there will be more space on the line, but little margin for error around the track.

"I bought [the J/111] and refit her over the winter of 2022, and splashed her in July in time for the Club's Race Week at Newport in 2022," says Berdon (at left), who campaigned a Marten 49 from 2016 through 2021. "We then won our class in the Vineyard Race against some very stiff ORC competition. That gave me the confidence to campaign her over the winter of 2022-'23 in the SORC, the RORC 600 and BVI Spring Regatta. We had a great time sailing her, but at 36 feet, she was not enough boat for long distances.

Andrew Berdon
Andrew Berdon

"The decision to buy another carbon race boat was put into motion when Royal Ocean Racing Club announced its intention to re-establish the Admiral's Cup in 2025. When I read of that decision, I revisited the idea of competing in the 2024 Bermuda Race and ORC Worlds in Newport, both for their own sake and as a reality check to see if we could be competitive as a candidate for an Admiral's Cup team."

The early returns for Berdon and his crew were very positive, an overall win in the Storm Trysail Club's 186-mile Block Island Race a few weeks ago. Now he'll get a chance to see how his crew and his new boat do around the buoys.

Vesper, Fox and Prospector
David Team's Vesper, Victor Wild's Fox and the Prospector team, led by Larry Landry and Paul McDowell © ROLEX/Daniel Forster

Berdon's competition in ORC B will be familiar to anyone who's followed the sharp end of ORC sailing the past few years: David Team's Vesper, Victor Wild's Fox (at right) and the Prospector team, led by Larry Landry and Paul McDowell, which has downsized from a Mills 68 in advance of the ORC Worlds. There's also one wild card in the class, the sparkling new Botin ORC 45 Azulito, skippered by Wendy Schmidt.

Any one of the five could win the weekend. Any one could finish last.

"I’m looking forward to competing against some of the best-prepared and crewed TP52 teams in the world,"
says Berdon. "We have a great group of sailors and a great boat, and we are very fortunate to be racing TP52s in Newport this summer."

Racing in the 170th Annual Regatta will begin with all classes sailing the traditional race around Conanicut Island on Friday, June 14, and continue with buoy and navigator racing on Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound on Saturday and Sunday, June 15 and 16. The 52 Super Series, returning to North America for the first time in seven years, will sail through Thursday, June 13, on its own before joining the Annual Regatta. A capacity crowd of nearly 1,000 is anticipated for Saturday night's Annual Regatta Dinner.

The New York Yacht Club’s Annual Regatta was first sailed on the Hudson River on July 16 and 18, 1846. A similar competition the previous year was called a Trial of Speed. With a few exceptions for world wars and other global crises, the event has been held every year since. For the majority of its existence, the Annual Regatta was raced on waters close to New York City. Since 1988, however, the event has been sailed out of the Harbour Court clubhouse in Newport, R.I., and, in 2004, it settled into the current three-day format, which includes a race around Conanicut Island on Friday, two days of buoy or navigator-course racing on Saturday and Sunday and nightly social activities on the grounds of the historic Harbour Court mansion. The 170th Annual Regatta will feature an historic fleet of more than 150 boats, including the 10-foot 52 Super Series fleet, competing in North America for the first time since 2017. The Annual Regatta is sponsored by Helly Hansen, Safe Harbor Marinas, Peters & May and Hammetts Hotel,