When it was first announced in October 1959, by Field Marshal Sir William Slim, then Australia's Governor General and Commodore of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, Australia's challenge for the America's Cup caught British yachtsmen with their pennants down. One British yachtsman in particular, H.R.H. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and patron of the Royal Thames Yacht Club, was incensed at the idea of intruders from down under horning in on what he deemed a purely domestic prerogative. The following correspondence, made available to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED at the suggestion of Sir Frank Packer by the Australian Consolidated Press, discloses for the first time the Prince's frustrated efforts to reestablish Britannia's rule over the waves.
The Secretary, Australian Yachting Federation
It has become increasingly apparent over the past few months that following the defeat of the challenger (Sceptre) in the America's Cup series, a number of people in several Commonwealth countries including the United Kingdom are considering mounting another challenge.
Some of these latter, with other interested yachtsmen, met together in London to consider in an entirely informal manner some of the problems which will arise between a number of potential challengers coming forward reasonably simultaneously or at intervals.
September 16, 1962
There are clearly many facets of the problem which this informal gathering could make no attempt to solve. There was, however, a large measure of agreement that a committee should be set up consisting of the interested parties in this country in order to coordinate their efforts to the best advantage and to decide amongst themselves how and when challenges should be issued.
However, the meeting was aware that there were several potential challengers in other Commonwealth countries and those present felt that it might be to the mutual advantages of all concerned to invite all the potential challengers in the Commonwealth countries to meet together and discuss the subject.
As a basis for discussion, and no more, it was suggested that a Commonwealth Co-ordinating Committee might be set up. His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, indicated that were such a committee formed he would be prepared to accept the chairmanship.
It is now understood that the New York Yacht Club is not prepared to accept a challenge unless the challenger has taken part in some form of elimination races. This is another problem which the committee might tackle.
We would like to invite potential challengers to become members of the proposed Commonwealth Co-ordinating Committee and to ask whether it would be possible for them to attend a meeting in this country during the first fortnight in May or any other time they care to propose.
We will then endeavour to circulate as much information as possible to all members of the committee so that they may come to the meeting apprised of other people's problems and difficulties.
By the time this letter reached Australia, the challenge issued by Sir Frank Packer and his syndicate had been as good as accepted, but in a desperate effort to modify this fait accompli, the Royal Thames sent its emissary, Captain John Illingworth, R.N. (ret.), to New York to see what he could do. After talking to officials of the New York Yacht Club, Illingworth sent a message to Sir Frank conceding that his challenge had been accepted but adding that "in the light of the letter from Prince Philip, the New Yorkers hoped some way might be found to have British and Australian yachts meet in a Commonwealth elimination either in British or American waters."
Sir Frank's reply was direct:
THANK YOU FOR YOUR CABLED MESSAGE STOP THIS MATTER HAS NOW LARGELY PASSED INTO THE HANDS OF THE ROYAL SYDNEY YACHT SQUADRON WHO ISSUED THE CHALLENGE BUT SYNDICATE'S VIEW IS THAT THIS IS AN INTERNATIONAL TROPHY AND WE MADE NO SECRET OF THE FACT THAT AUSTRALIA INTENDED TO CHALLENGE, THAT A SYNDICATE HAD BEEN FORMED, THAT THE VIM HAD BEEN CHARTERED, THAT WE INTENDED TO BUILD A BOAT AND TO CHALLENGE STOP IN PUTTING OURSELVES IN THIS POSITION WE HAVE INCURRED GREAT EXPENSE STOP IF FOR REASONS BEST KNOWN TO THEMSELVES THE ENGLISH CHALLENGERS DECIDED TO DELAY THEIR CHALLENGE THIS IN MY OPINION IS NO JUSTIFICATION FOR QUESTIONING AUSTRALIA'S CHALLENGE.
FURTHERMORE I FEEL THAT A CHALLENGE FROM AUSTRALIA WILL ASSIST AND INTENSIFY GENERAL INTEREST IN THIS GREAT RACE. I SEE NO REASON FOR AUSTRALIA TO WITHDRAW FROM ITS RIGHT AND JUST POSITION AS THE VALID AND FIRST CHALLENGER FOR THE 1962 SERIES AND AS I SAID EARLIER IN THIS MESSAGE WE AT NO STAGE TRIED TO CLOAK HIDE OR CLOTHE OUR INTENTIONS WITH SECRECY.
THIS MESSAGE IS PERHAPS NOT VERY HELPFUL TO YOU IN WHAT YOU ARE SEEKING TO ACHIEVE WHICH YOU DESCRIBE AS QUOTE TO FIND A SOLUTION SATISFACTORY TO BOTH AUSTRALIA AND ENGLAND CLOSE QUOTE AS FAR AS WE ARE CONCERNED THE PRESENT SITUATION OF BEING THE FIRST AND THE VALID CHALLENGER IS QUITE SATISFACTORY FOR AUSTRALIA AND CALLS FOR NO SOLUTION STOP AS YOU ARE AWARE HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS PRINCE PHILIP IS PATRON OF ROYAL SYDNEY YACHT SQUADRON SO NO DOUBT OUR CHALLENGE WILL CARRY HIS BLESSING STOP AFTER ALL YOU HAVE HAD A LONG UNINTERRUPTED RUN STOP MAYBE WE WON'T DO ANY BETTER BUT EVERY NOW AND AGAIN YOU HAVE TO GIVE THE YOUNG FELLOW IN THE FAMILY HIS HEAD STOP WITH KINDEST REGARDS AND GOOD LUCK STOP YOU ARE AT LIBERTY TO PLACE THIS CABLE BEFORE THE NEW YORK YACHT CLUB IF YOU SO DESIRE.
With Sir Frank in no mood to compromise, it remained for Sir William Slim, the former Aussie commodore now living in London, to try to arrange an amicable truce. After talks with the British, he cabled:
VICE COMMODORE, ROYAL SYDNEY YACHT CLUB
HAVE HAD MEETING AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE WITH MAJOR BALL, VICE COMMODORE ROYAL THAMES, AND REAR ADMIRAL BONHAM CARTER AT WHICH SUBJECT OF 1962 CHALLENGE WAS FULLY DISCUSSED STOP I FOUND THE ATMOSPHERE MOST FRIENDLY AND UNDERSTANDING TOWARDS THE AUSTRALIAN CHALLENGE AND THERE IS NO WISH TO HORN IN ON IT. WE ARE ALL IN AGREEMENT THAT ROYAL SYDNEY YACHT SQUADRON SHOULD PROCEED AS CHALLENGERS FOR 1962 WITH EVERYONE'S GOOD WISHES STOP IT IS HOPED TO FORM THE COMMONWEALTH COMMITTEE TO CO-ORDINATE ARRANGEMENTS FOR FUTURE CHALLENGES AGAINST EITHER SYDNEY OR NEW YORK STOP I RECOMMEND VERY STRONGLY THAT AUSTRALIA SHOULD BE REPRESENTED ON IT STOP PERSONALLY I AM OF OPINION THAT ROYAL THAMES HAS BEHAVED MOST UNDER-STANDINGLY AS THEIR CHALLENGE COULD HAVE REACHED NEW YORK WELL BEFORE OURS BUT FOR THEIR ACCEPTANCE OF POSTPONEMENT TO FALL IN WITH TERMS OF SUGGESTED COMMONWEALTH COMMITTEE STOP I HOPE ALL IS NOW CLEAR TO GO FULL SAIL AHEAD.