It is probably not a good idea to be wandering around the streets of mid-town Manhattan in the middle of the night in mid-January, or anytime for that matter. But if you happened to be out and about on 44th Street in the early morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 10, you would have been treated to a spectacular sight. For you would have seen Stars and Stripes, of Team Dennis Conner, gracing the front door of the New York YC, in town for a naming ceremony for Conner's newest navy blue 79-foot yacht. Never before in the 132-year history of defending the America's Cup has the New York YC brought one of its boats to New York to be christened. But these are unusual times for New York and it seems fitting that the Club would welcome Conner back in such a grand style. It was Dennis Conner, representing the NYYC, who lost the Cup back in 1983 to Australia's winged-keel wonder.
Dennis Conner, arguably the best America's Cup skipper in history, won the Cup in 1974, 1980 for the New York YC, but when he lost the Cup in 1983, he and the NYYC parted company and Conner decided to represent the San Diego YC, winning the Cup for them in 1987 and 1988. It is because of the efforts of our own Ed du Moulin, the most successful Cup manager in the history of the competition, that Conner has returned to New York. For it was du Moulin, working quietly behind the scenes, that got the two to shake hands and work together. "Team Dennis Conner is honored and excited to represent New York City, as we focus on winning the America's Cup and bringing it back to her rightful home - here in the United States, " said Conner. "The courage New Yorkers have shown in rebuilding and revitalizing this great city gives our team the motivation and support we need to win back the oldest Trophy in sports."
The evening was a homecoming of sorts for Conner - a re-union bringing together the many people who have spent countless hours over many years defending and challenging for the Cup. The christening ceremony, scheduled for 6:30 p.m.on Thursday evening, Jan. 10, brought many people to 37 West 44th Street early, just to savor the moment and greet old friends. As passers-by looked quizzically at the scene - one must admit that it is not everyday that a 79-foot boat is in the middle of a Manhattan street - friends hugged each other, took photos under large spotlights that highlighted the sleek beauty of Stars and Stripes, and spoke of past Cup competition. Many in attendance have ties to our area. Stretch Ryder, the chairperson of the Port Washington Public Library's Nautical Center, with past Cup experience, was there as was John Thomson, the founder of the Manhasset Bay Fall Series, one of the premier yacht racing events on Long Island Sound. Ralf Steitz, who coaches at the US Merchant Marine Academy, and who has been crew on previous Stars and Stripes, was chatting with crew members about the reverse bow of the newest Conner boat. Ed du Moulin, along with his son, Richard, who grew up sailing in Manhasset Bay, and now lives in Larchmont, seemed to know every one there, and enjoyed spending time with old friends. Ted Weisberg, past commodore of the Knickerbocker YC, and chairman of the Knickerbocker Cup, who is the President of the Match Racing Association and a director of the Swedish Match Racing Tour, was there with his daughter, Rebecca, who is also his business partner. While the scene on the sidewalk in front of the entrance to the NYYC was quite public, jammed with people and loud with conversation, it felt like an intimate family reunion. And as families grow older and bring home spouses and babies that are immediately accepted into the warmth of the family circle, so too the Dennis Conner family greeted newcomers. Jonathan Shields, who grew up in Port Washington, and spent his youth sailing on Manhasset Bay, now works for Computer Associates, Team Dennis Conner's major sponsor, and enjoyed the excitement of the evening.
Before the traditional breaking of a champagne bottle over the bow of the boat, the group gathered in the Model Room of the NYYC for a cocktail hour prior to the formal segment of the evening. Surrounded by the magnificence of the models, Commodore Charles Dana said, "The America's Cup is an integral part of the history of New York. We look forward to doing everything we can to help Team Dennis Conner prepare to race in this state-of-the-art vessel crewed by America's finest sailors. The America's Cup belongs home in New York." And it should be added that Conner's team is the only all American team challenging for the Cup. Every single crewmember is an American, and the Platinum sponsor, Computer Associates, is not only American, but a Long Island company. As Commodore Dana spoke, one couldn't help but be touched by the emotions displayed by Dennis Conner. DC, as he is affectionately called, who has had some bad press in past years, sat on the stage with his wife, Daintry, with tears in his eyes as he listened to Commodore Dana speak so glowingly of his accomplishments. This was a fine moment for both Conner and The New York YC, which so graciously welcomed Conner back with open arms. The respect and dignity afforded this incredible sailor by Club members and all in attendance was a joy to observe, and represented a true "coming home."
Stars and Stripes left the streets of Manhattan by midnight, Thursday, Jan. 10, on its way to San Diego, Hawaii, and ultimately Auckland. Before qualifying for the right to challenge the Cup Defender, Team New Zealand, Team Dennis Conner must win the Louis Vuitton Cup, which is a four-month challenger series starting Oct. 1, 2002. The winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup, which will be held in Auckland, New Zealand, earns the right to challenge Team New Zealand in the 31st America's Cup Defense starting in February 15, 2003. Commodore Dana, when speaking of the partnership between DC and the NYYC, said it best, "it just feels right." Let's bring the Cup home to New York.