When the British 12-meter yacht Sceptre sails forth from Newport on September 20 for the 17th challenge of the America's Cup, she will meet in lone combat the sole survivor of four American candidates for the defense which awaited the starting gun for the first preliminary trial race held by the New York Yacht Club in mid-July. Between this first trial and September's ultimate, great effort, the pressures will have been as severe as any in the historic struggle for possession of the greatest single international trophy in sport. Three crews will have fallen by the watery wayside as the miles spin astern during the intervening weeks—weeks of hard work, constant experimenting, astronomically mounting costs, midnight strategy sessions and morning sail drills, race on top of race, tension building and hope fluctuating...plus an almost fanatical determination, after a century of successful American competition, "not to be the first to lose the cup" in the face of what appears to be the most scientifically planned and meticulously executed invasion by a cup challenger in history.
This is an article from the May 12, 1958 issue
It must not be forgotten-that yacht races are basically tests of skill, preparation, stamina and courage among men. This will never be more true than this summer. Due to the rigid straitjacket of convention imposed on the designers by the provisions of the International Rule, it will probably be difficult from a distance for the spectator fleet to tell the competing vessels apart, except perhaps for hull color. Extremes in length have to be paid for by radical alterations of sail area, and such characteristics of appearance as freeboard, overhang, crown of deck and tumble home are matters carefully controlled. Even the dimensions of the table in the cabin below are specified.
But no rule governs the selection of the crews who will be aboard, or gives a hint of the motivation inspiring each owner or head of syndicate to undertake the organization, the expense and the potential heartaches and headaches likely to result from a bid for the honor of defending. Nor does the disembodied impression of beauty and serene grace of the yachts themselves convey the stress and strain of competitive reality. When you read in the morning paper a simple statement like "Weatherly tacked under the Point Judith shore," it can cover a multitude of mental and physical activities: an evaluation of the wind and tide, and the possibility of a favoring lift; an assessment of the tactical situation of the moment, and what is likely to evolve; a sudden sharp order, and the crew leaping to stations, and the helmsman bringing the boat through the wind in a precise pattern, and the sweaty application of brute force on the winches as the sails are sheeted home. The success of the maneuver will depend on split-second timing and teamwork as precise as the Oklahoma backfield—and on imagination and ability equally lively to that of the quarterback calling the signals.
Thus it is axiomatic among sailing men that skippers and crews are as important as the vessels, if not more so. Philip L. Rhodes, one of the competing designers, went so far recently as to say publicly: "Assuming no luck is involved in winning, the crew comes first, the sails next and the boat comes third and last." Between tank-tested hulls of similar dimensions, the difference in speed potential can only be a matter of a few seconds per mile. And as Harold Vanderbilt wrote in On the Wind's Highway, an account of the America's Cup preparations and races in 1934 and 1937 aboard Rainbow and Ranger: "Mistakes are made frequently in yacht races, and fortune generally smiles on the yacht which makes the fewest."
Yet somehow the incidents which make good alibis later on the club veranda don't happen to the best skipper and crew—not so often, anyway. Vanderbilt proved his thesis with Rainbow, which was selected as defender after a bitter series of trials in which it was generally acknowledged Yankee was the faster boat, and then went on to retain possession of the cup against T.O.M. Sopwith's Endeavour, even more superior in sheer ability to get through the water. In the first instance Rainbow came through principally because of sounder tactics and stronger gear; in the second, again through tactical superiority, plus far smarter teamwork on deck.
It is still too early to make any sweeping predictions about the yachts themselves. Improvement of the current 12s over Vim, considered the last word in 1939 and built to the identical rule which governs design today, is generally conceded to be a matter of refinement, of smoothing lines here and cutting weight there, and perhaps taking advantage of technological advances in other fields which can be applied to naval construction. Refinement has reached the point where Weatherly is using aluminum screws in her deck to save a few pounds over the traditional bronze—this in a vessel whose finished weight will not be far from 30 tons.
Despite the fact that Phil Rhodes, before a dinner of the Cruising Club in late March, also stated his belief that "the International Rule establishes virtually a one-design class"—and proved the degree of his conviction by the unprecedented gesture of projecting before a large audience construction details and even the lines of his creation—the possibility of a vessel of revolutionary speed like Ranger, the "super J boat," appearing is not to be entirely ruled out. His own may be such a boat. Another American designer of great skill and imagination, C. Raymond Hunt, is getting his first crack at the class. He produced the 5.5-meter Quixotic for the 1956 Olympic Games, and she was by far the fastest of the fleet assembled for the selection trials. She was also the hard-luck boat of the series. After being disqualified by a foul in one race, she came to the last needing only a ninth for over-all victory—and down tumbled her mainsail when a halyard fitting failed.
Olin Stephens, of the design firm of Sparkman and Stephens, sums it up by saying, "If enough little things could be put together, you might get a boat that would appear as outstanding as Ranger." By the "little things" he is thinking not only of the physical factors of hull, rig, sails and the minutiae of gear which together make a boat go, but also of the human element: an organizational ability to match Harold Vanderbilt's, as well as his meticulous attention to the perfection of every detail and evolution; matters like the afterguard of Ranger, selected solely in an effort to get the best possible man for each individual chore; the foredeck teamwork developed through constant and demanding practice; and a dedication to a boat and her mission which not all men can achieve. It would have been hard to defeat even a relatively slow boat having such a background and organization; concentrate it on a fast hull with everything below and aloft as nearly perfect as human ingenuity and hard work could make it, and you have a superboat. Thus it may be with a 12 in 1958.
Three are two principal requirements governing crews aboard vessels seeking to defend the cup. The total number is limited by a provision in the racing rules of the New York Yacht Club allowing one man to each 250 square feet of measured sail area or additional fraction thereof, plus three. Vim's present area of 1,916 feet, for instance, permits a working crew of 11, including skipper, navigator, afterguard and professionals. If she reduced sail area by 166 square feet, to 1,750 feet or below, she would be allowed only a crew of 10; by increasing it by 85 to 2,001 square feet or more, she could carry 12. However, sail area under the measurement rule is delicately balanced against water-line length, so even a minor change in one means an alteration, not necessarily desirable, in the other. Thus it can be almost certainly assumed that the crew aboard each boat will fall within the figures above: 10, 11 or 12.
In the old days professionals would have outnumbered amateurs. But modern yachting has become largely a matter of participation by the owner and his friends or family, and the paid hands in most cases have been relegated to the position of shipkeepers, responsible principally for maintenance and assistance in sail changes. While there is nothing in the rules which would prevent a professional from steering and acting as captain in fact as well as in the oft-heard courtesy title, it is a certain bet that all helmsmen and directors of tactics will be Corinthian—amateur—sailors. This year it is doubtful if any yacht will have more than three paid men aboard, and at least one plans even less.
A second requirement governing the candidates is that the owner or head of syndicate be a member of the New York Yacht Club. This is more a matter of tradition than written rule, but so closely has the New York Yacht Club been associated with the America's Cup—beginning with the syndicate of its members which first won the trophy—that its right to act as arbiter of the cup's destiny was questioned only once. In 1901 Thomas W. Lawson, a wealthy Boston stock speculator, created a flurry by announcing he would pit his Independence against the two yachts being raced by members of the New York Yacht Club to decide a defender; he was not a member of the club and had no intention of becoming one, but he demanded a right to compete. Words passed, and the public took sides. Regardless, the Independence was not allowed to enter the trial races, but the pressure was taken off the New York organization when the three boats met in a series of events arranged by the Newport Yacht Racing Association—and the Independence finished a dismal last each time.
Harold Vanderbilt, long years ago, wrote in Enterprise: "Public interest in the America's Cup is such that when a yacht is chosen to defend it she loses her private character and becomes for the time being the property of the American people; she is their representative, their defender." And he added: "For that reason they are entitled to her history." Here, then, are the stories of the 1958 candidates for the cup defense:
First, there is the still unnamed boat of the Sears syndicate, called Swift in the earliest stages of her career until, according to one report, a superstitious member among her sponsors felt such an optimistic name might be the kiss of death. She was the first yacht to be announced, and is financed by a syndicate of New York Yacht Club members. Henry Sears, guiding spirit of the group, was commodore when the deed of gift was altered to permit a resumption of competition. His reason for building a 12 was based not only on a love of sailing and racing extending back through 11 boats named Actaea to a Swampscott dory in 1921, but on concern for the honor of the New York Yacht Club. As he says, "It would have looked awfully damned silly to have sponsored a challenge and then have no boat to defend." Immediately when the Royal Yacht Squadron signified its intention of sending across a vessel in quest of the hallowed trophy, Sears personally underwrote the preliminary expenses of designing and tank-testing a defender, and then began persuading others to help.
Second, there is Easterner, owned by Chandler Hovey of Boston, which is "a family affair"—family-financed, and to be sailed principally by members of the family, assisted by the designer, Ray Hunt, and his son. Chandler Hovey's desire to participate is easy to understand: not only did he receive an appeal to come to the rescue with a yacht when the New York group was having difficulty raising sufficient money to begin construction, but the 78-year-old down-East sailor has had the most big boat racing experience of any active yachtsman in America, including ownership of three J boats. Thrice before he has been a candidate to defend: with Yankee in 1930 and 1934, and Rainbow, purchased from Vanderbilt, in 1937. Perhaps what finally made up his mind this time was a desire to erase the disappointment of one of the most agonizing moments in sporting history, when in the deciding race of the final trials in 1934, Vanderbilt, after a seesaw battle of 30 miles, brought Rainbow across the line one second ahead of Yankee—so close that the crews of neither boat nor the spectator fleet knew who had won until they were told by the committee.
Third, there is Weatherly, building for Henry D. Mercer of Rumson, N.J. and two business associates, Cornelius Walsh and Arnold Frese. Although Mercer has long been associated with shipping and power yachting, there was universal surprise when he commissioned Philip Rhodes to design a candidate for defense, as he had never been active in the sailing side of yachting. It turned out to be a gesture in the grand tradition: as a younger couple Henry and Catherine Mercer had traveled across the Atlantic by steamer with Sir Thomas Lipton on the way to one of his many challenges. They had become firm friends, and Mercer developed a great admiration for the sportsmanship of the Irish baronet. In his mind there formed the determination that perhaps he, too, would "have a go at The Ould Mug," if the occasion arose. So when he heard the New York Yacht Club syndicate was having trouble raising sufficient money to proceed, he decided to make sure America would have at least one new boat to meet the British invasion.
Fourth, there is Vim, with an impressive record, including a campaign on the Solent under Vanderbilt in 1939 when she completely outclassed the best the British then had to offer. Through the war and for several years afterwards she sat forlornly on a cradle in a City Island shipyard, until bought in 1951 for the traditional song—comparatively speaking—by John Matthews of Oyster Bay, N.Y., owner of other large sailing craft, who "liked the idea of having a fast sporty boat for racing." He added a small engine and made minor changes in the accommodations below, and with his sons and friends sailed her happily and successfully for the intervening years under the Cruising Club of America Rule. Suddenly, there was a change in the deed of gift of the America's Cup, and he found he had a possible defender. He was pleased and also somewhat appalled, but too much in love with Vim not to undertake the task of campaigning her: "In justice to the boat we have to go ahead, and there will be no halfway measures in our preparations."
Behind each vessel now being constructed is another story, the selection of a designer. "I felt Olin Stephens was the logical man," said Henry Sears. "He not only has had a great deal of experience in the International Rule, producing such boats as the 6-meter Goose and the 12-meter Vim, but through his work on Ranger he has been subjected to cup pressures." Chandler Hovey turned to Ray Hunt, partly as a fellow New Englander, partly because of his success with a multitude of brilliant designs. "Ray came in to see me at my office a couple of times last year," recalled Mr. Hovey, "and talked to me about building a 12. I wasn't too interested. Then one day Harry Morgan called me from New York and said there was a possibility of the club syndicate falling apart; the challenge had been formally accepted and there was a chance no new boat would materialize on our side. I told him I would think it over. By pure coincidence, a half hour later Ray walked in and unrolled some preliminary plans. I told him to go ahead, and informed Harry Morgan next day we would have a boat." In New Jersey, Henry Mercer, also hearing of the difficulties of the original syndicate, called Philip Rhodes, who has designed winning yachts to virtually every other rule but the International, and asked for a two-week option on his services. Before the time expired, Mercer and his associates met with Rhodes and commissioned him to design a boat—and, what is rare in yachting annals, not only to design it but to choose a builder, skipper and crew.
If, at the present writing, any criticism can be leveled against the American effort to produce a worthy defender, it is in the lateness of the launching of the new boats. It has always been considered desirable to begin practice sails and tune-ups in late April or early May. Before the first new 12 takes the water on this side of the Atlantic, the British challenger Sceptre will have had many weeks of intensive workouts. Only Vim will be matching her. Yet the delay is probably the fault of no one except the tax collector: it is simply difficult these days for even wealthy men to persuade themselves to put up the large sums of cash needed.
While at this writing every slot in every crew has not been filled, the general outline of the key personnel aboard each candidate has become clear. The Sears boat will be sailed by a formidable team, including several members of the syndicate which financed her. Briggs Cunningham, who will be starting helmsman and in over-all charge as skipper, has recently been better known for his sports car activities, but it should not be forgotten that he was a master in 6-meters in the 1930s, and was successful in 12s as well. Aboard as an alternate helmsman and navigator will be Henry Sears. Another alternate helmsman and chief adviser on tactics will be Olin Stephens, the designer, who performed similar duties in the 1937 races as a part of the afterguard of Ranger. The other member of the famous brother team, Rod Stephens, will have his same job as on the last defense, supervising the setting and trimming of headsails. Another member of the regular crew will be William T. Moore, president of the Moore-McCormack steamship lines and owner-skipper of the ocean racer Argyll, winner of the Bermuda Race in 1950.
Nothing shows better the trend towards Corinthianism in yachting than the complete roster of the Sears boat. In the old days there was an amateur afterguard and a paid fore-deck gang. The latter did all the heavy work of sail setting and trimming. In fact, a yachtsman of the '80s would probably no more have thought of going forward of the mast than he would of going to the galley and offering to help peel potatoes.
But on the Sears boat today there will be only two professionals, Fred Lawton, as sailing master, and a younger sailor. Lawton is among the tops in his field, having held a similar position under Vanderbilt on Vim and John Nicholas Brown on Bolero. Working shoulder to shoulder with him and his helper will be an amateur group, including Colin E. Ratsey, youngest of the famous line of sailmakers (an uncle, George Colin Ratsey, head of the parent firm of Ratsey & Lapthorn in Cowes, will be almost equally active on behalf of the challenger, as Ratseys have been on both sides of the Atlantic for most of the history of the cup). Others will include Cornelius Shields Jr.; Wallace (Tobey) Tobin, a Yale undergraduate; and one other young Corinthian yet to be named.
One great yachtsman who is a member of the syndicate probably will be aboard very little, if at all. Yet, according to Henry Sears, it was Gerard B. Lambert who "got her off the ground" when the boat was in danger of never being built. "He came to me and said, 'I'm for this, for the sport. I don't want to sail, but here it is with my blessings.' " The unspecified "it" must have been a generous share of the financial backing, as the plight of the project to provide a defender was no secret. Yet Lambert can probably be of future service to the group as well, because of his great experience in campaigning large sailing yachts in American and European waters before the war. Other members of the syndicate who will be available but probably will not sail aboard regularly are James A. Farrell Jr., of the Farrell Lines, and A. Howard Fuller of Hartford, Conn., president of the Fuller Brush Company, which is building the mast. Fuller is owner of Gesture, another Bermuda champion.
Easterner will undoubtedly be run on a different basis. "We have always sailed informally as a family," declared Chandler Hovey, a tall, erect, handsome man with short-cropped gray hair and eyes puckered at the corners from a lifetime of watching sun dance across water. And a family it will be: Chandler Hovey Jr., 44, still bearing the boyhood nickname Bus, will be the starting helmsman, and his brother, Charles, 48, will be alternate. Son-in-law Sherman Morss will navigate, and daughter Sis, his wife, will be on deck much of the time. Mr. Hovey himself will head the board of strategy.
Adding to the knowledge and know-how of the Hovey clan will be Ray Hunt, as brilliant a racing sailor as he is a designer. At his best in light airs, his ability to smell out fickle slants borders on the miraculous. "Ray is uncanny," his competitors have moaned, including me. "He goes somewhere, and that's where the new breeze begins." Among his other talents is tuning to a high pitch vessels which have been dead for other skippers: "He can make 'em come alive," admitted one owner. Perhaps this is a reason why Chandler Hovey is not too concerned by the late launching date projected for Easterner. "If you have a good boat it doesn't take long to get her going," he said. "Tuning is a matter of prior knowledge and feel." But the elimination of design and building bugs is another thing, and among the question marks of the trials will be the ability of her crew to get rid of all possible sources of trouble in the short time before the chips are down.
Henry Mercer and his associates conceived and commissioned Weatherly in the tradition of an earlier era, and it looks as though she will be sailed in the same manner. Mr. Mercer will not be aboard but will watch events from the deck of the 110-foot diesel yacht Bluejacket, as Sir Thomas Lipton followed the destinies of his Shamrocks from the bridge of the mother ship, Erin. But there the similarity will end, as the crew of Weatherly will be principally Corinthian. In fact, representing the sailing interests of his family as one of the pullers-and-haulers aboard will be Douglas D. Mercer, 22. Now a States Marine Line third mate, he will temporarily desert the bridge for the foredeck.
The question of who would be named as skipper of Weatherly was debated by yachtsmen for months. Many of the finest racing helmsmen in America were considered, but the final honor of selection went to Arthur Knapp Jr. of Larchmont, N.Y. On Ranger he occupied the post of head-sail and spinnaker trimmer. In 1958 he will have the responsibility of rounding out and training a crew, choosing sails, tuning the rig and making the 10,000 individual decisions which inevitably plague a skipper.
Now in his early 50s, Knappy's sailing career extends back to 1916 when he raced a 14-foot Butterfly class sneakbox at the Bayside Yacht Club. At 11, his father bought him a Star; by 1930 he had become world champion skipper of the Star class, numerically at the time about the biggest and most active one-design fleet in existence. From Stars, he progressed up and down, sizewise, from dinghies to J's, and extended his interests to ocean racing, making the trip to Bermuda, among other offshore ventures, nine times. In between he raced Internationals in Long Island Sound for 12 seasons, winning the YRA Championship four times and never finishing farther back than third. Few sailors have had more varied experience, or been as consistently successful in all types of vessels.
Shuttling between sail trimmer and relief helmsman will be Edgar L. Raymond of Rowayton, Conn. Best known as the owner of the ketch Chanteyman, a slippery ghost in coastwise racing, he also earned a reputation as crew member on other winning yachts, and as an ardent Frostbite dinghy skipper. Himself a sail-maker, he will contribute an ability to evaluate the vital question of drive aloft. The author will navigate, alternating and sharing other deck duties with Frank R. MacLear of New York, who is a veteran of five Atlantic and two Pacific crossings, as well as innumerable shorter passages and races.
The designer will be represented by his son, Philip H. Rhodes, a naval architect and member of his father's firm, who combines a knowledge of engineering with a well-rounded sailing career. Still to be named are three professionals and two additional Corinthians; however, there is no lack of candidates.
When John Matthews speaks of the crew of Vim, it is always in terms of a modest "we." In this case the plural includes his two sons, Donald, 24, and Richard, 27. In many respects Vim is part of the family, as well as being a family boat. Don was acting as skipper when still in his teens; a quiet, soft-spoken young man, he was national champion of the Raven class—small, very fast and sensitive boats—in 1954, and last summer did well in the keenly contested Internationals on Long Island. From present indications, he will probably be starting helmsman.
John Matthews is overlooking no bets in getting Vim ready for modern competition. She has been carefully restored to her original trim by skinning out the interior and removing the engine, and every piece of metal which might have been subjected to fatigue has been inspected. When there was any doubt, it was replaced. There is new rigging, and there are new winches, and lightweight metal spinnaker poles and main boom. Sails have been ordered of the latest synthetics. "In my personal opinion," says John Matthews, a man who knows a lot about boats, "she could not be in better shape if she had been recently built." Extensive modifications? "How could you be sure of improving something that sails so well, that balances so beautifully? She goes like the devil in light air, and she goes like the devil when it blows—what could I change?"
Unquestionably Vim will have the jump on the new boats when it comes to tune-up sailing. Last September Matthews and some members of his team practiced against Gleam, another 12, in the waters off Newport—where they encountered Commander Samuel S. Brooks, Royal Navy, who has been named initial helmsman of Sceptre, himself sailing with a group of English yachtsman in a chartered yacht to study conditions of wind and sea over the cup course. "It shows how seriously they are going about this challenge," said John Matthews, a dark, intense man. "Even with their currency restrictions they managed to come over for a month to learn our waters. The rest of their effort will be in proportion. We ourselves will have to try to do everything a little harder."
The "we" of Vim has been expanded to include some of the best racing sailors in America. One is Emil (Bus) Mosbacher Jr., winner of the season's championship in the tough International One-Design class of Long Island Sound for eight straight years. As representative of that body of water in the 1956 Mallory Cup races in Seattle he was defeated by a talented young sailor and sailmaker from Marblehead, Mass., Frederick E. Hood. Now Ted Hood will be a fellow member of the Vim afterguard. Another frequent winner who will be aboard is Richard H. Bertram of Miami, who progressed from the intercollegiate dinghy title to being twice victor in the Lightning class international championships. The roster goes on through Bradley P. Noyes, whose 50-foot yawl Tioga won 14 starts in 16 races during 1955; Jakob Isbrandtsen, skipper of Hother and Icefire, consistent competitors in scores of coastwise and offshore events; and Leo (Buddy) Bombard, who has crewed on winners from round the buoys to a transatlantic race. Plus a tough and able trio of professionals of great experience, one a veteran of the last defense aboard Ranger.
Thus, with all the variables of men and boats, the series of trial matches beginning in July and extending into September will have every possible element of excitement and drama. Tension will mount throughout the summer. Unless one yacht immediately establishes itself as a superboat, leadership in the series may seesaw; as in other sports, one competitor may be slow to get going but then come from behind in the standings to win in the final trials, perhaps in the ultimate few yards of the very last race that can be held, as did Rainbow over Yankee in 1934.
In accordance with tradition, the cup committee, under Commodore W.A. W. Stewart, will maintain complete silence until the last moment, one week before the start of the cup races on September 20, when the owner or head of syndicate is formally notified that he and his crew have been honored by selection as defender. Before this climactic event the race committee, headed by John S. Dickerson, will have made every effort to see that the actual cup conditions are approximated as closely as possible, to insure complete and impartial evaluation. And everything through many hundreds of miles of racing will enter the mental balance sheets of the cup committee: tactics before and after the start, smartness in sail handling, behavior of each yacht in a given wind and sea, relative hull speeds in heavy and light going, and—looming large—dependability. Clearly stated in the mutually agreed conditions between the competing clubs is a clause stating that "if either yacht shall be disabled after leaving her mooring for the start of the race through a defect in her hull or in her sails, rigging, gear or the handling thereof, the other yacht shall start and continue the race." The only exception can be if serious collision or accident, or crew injury, with no blame attached to the damaged vessel, should warrant postponement by the race committee in consultation with the representative of the Royal Yacht Squadron. In other words, no quarter can be asked or given.
So the trials will be trials in all senses of the word. In these scientific days, it is possible to demonstrate many things in the laboratory. But only sailing under all conditions of wind and sea can prove the results. It is better so. In sport the final competition should be between men, not machines. As one wag put it, "You can't test the skippers in a tank." Nor the crews. Therein lies the classic drama of the 17th defense of the America's Cup.
THE MATTHEWS FAMILY has prepared Vim for cup defense as a family venture. Donald (right), father John and Richard have gathered around them an expert crew.
GERARD B. LAMBERT
WILLIAM T. MOORE
JAMES A. FARRELL JR.
A. HOWARD FULLER
HENRY D. MERCER
ARNOLD D. FRESE