The New York Yacht Club challenge for the 36th America’s Cup, represented by Bella Mente Quantum Racing, recently announced a talent development partnership with Oakcliff Sailing of Oyster Bay. This agreement is the campaign’s first step toward making good on its founding promise to establish an enduring legacy for American sailing.
The partnership will supply the challenge with a reliable source of enthusiastic and skilled talent to fill a variety of roles on the team, on and off the water. For American sailors thirsting for a career in professional sailing, there is finally a defined pathway to the top level of the sport.
“There are many talented sailors in the United States,” said Terry Hutchinson, executive director and sailing team manager of Bella Mente Quantum Racing. “But the sailing team is only a small percentage of the total workforce needed for a comprehensive America’s Cup campaign. And the Cup is as much a technical challenge as a sporting contest. Finding knowledgeable young American sailors with the appropriate experience and technical skills has always been difficult. This partnership will connect us with motivated young adults who can contribute to the campaign in a variety of ways—including as a part of the sailing team—while also learning what it takes to succeed at the top level of the sport.”
Oakcliff Sailing was founded in 2010, by sailors and philanthropists Hunt and Betsy Lawrence, with the express purpose of raising the caliber of sailing in the United States.
Executive director Dawn Riley is a veteran of four America’s Cup campaigns and two round-the world races.
“Oakcliff is building American leaders through sailing, and feeding those graduates into an America’s Cup program has always been a part of the plan,” said Riley. “When the New York Yacht Club announced its challenge, I called Terry and said, ‘I think Oakcliff can help you, let’s make a plan,’ and Terry’s response was, ‘Yes, let’s make this happen!’”
Participants in Oakcliff’s 2018 Sapling Program will spend the summer at the Oakcliff campus on Long Island’s North Shore learning everything from rigging, engine maintenance and sailmaking to advanced boat handling, match-racing tactics, nutrition and fitness. At the end of the season they will be evaluated by Riley and the senior management, who will refer appropriate candidates to Hutchinson and the team for an interview, or try to place them in other job opportunities that suit them better. BMQR will contribute to the Sapling program scholarship fund.
BMQR has already begun to draw from Oakcliff’s existing pool of talented young sailors. Robyn Lesh of Everson, WA, a 2016 graduate of the Sapling Program and the center’s High Performance Fleet Manager, was recently hired by the syndicate design team, which is led by Marcelino Botín. She will join the team in Santander, Spain, in March. Lesh graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2016 with a degree in mechanical and ocean engineering.
“It feels absolutely stunning,” said Lesh, on getting hired by the team. “My time at Oakcliff has allowed me to round out the classroom learning I did at MIT with real-world experience. The practical knowledge I’ve gained over the last year will be essential as we try to design the fastest boat for the 36th America’s Cup.”
The application window is open for Oakcliff’s 2018 Sapling Program. The center expects the roster to be set by early spring; all interested applicants are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. Financial aid is available. For more on the Oakcliff Program, including application details, visit www.oakcliffsailing.org.
—Submitted by Oakcliff Sailing