The place was Newport, and they were having a sailing race, but there were no Mosbachers around nor even any Australians. It was Newport Beach, Calif. and the pick of the nation's small-boat sailors were competing for the 150-year-old Mallory Cup, symbol of the North American Sailing Championship.
In earlier times Bus Mosbacher's brother, Bob, and America's Cup Sail-maker Ted Hood had raced for the Mallory and brought it home to salt water. But for the past three years, a Wisconsin fresh-water sailor named Harry (Buddy) Melges has kept it firmly locked up in the Middle West (SI, Aug. 27). Last week, with Melges absent, another freshwater man from Wisconsin proved himself the best in the business.
Jim Payton, a 200-pounder of Irish and Norwegian stock, has sailed almost since he was born. Now 34 and a perennial runner-up, he won the Inland Lake Yachting Association championship on Pine Lake in the absence of his friend Melges, who had forsaken both ILYA and the Mallory to prepare for the Olympics.
The day before Payton left for Newport, Melges' sister brought the Mallory Cup around in its brown, lockless box. She also brought instructions from Buddy: "Take it with you, and make sure you bring it back." With the Mallory Cup in the trunk, a gallon jug of water and ice cubes (for the Mojave Desert) in the back, his pretty, brunette wife Angie and his 210-pound crewman Chuck Miller, Payton climbed into the '59 Buick and headed west. "I never really expected to win the Mallory," he says. "We just wanted to see some of the country."
He was careful, however, to take his lucky charm: a blue hat given to him 21 years ago by an old sailing instructor.
Payton had never sailed a keel boat before. He had never even set foot in a Schock-25—eight of which, tuned with identical precision, had been chosen for the races—and the wind habits off Newport were as mysterious to him as the Pacific itself. His chief competition was a Newport resident named Bill Ficker.
On the first day Ficker won the first two races to establish a 2½-point lead over Payton in the series score. The next day he, a gamesman, capitalized on his success by refusing to so much as glance at any other boat before the third race; the other sailors, Payton among them, were of course peering at him like diagnosticians. At 10:15 that morning Ficker had arrived at dockside only 15 minutes before the tow was scheduled to take the boats to the starting line.
Methodically, he unfurled his spinnaker and washed it, then hung it up on the masthead to dry in the listless morning air. The washed and drying spinnakers of Ficker's competitors were soon fluttering in the same listless air. But in that race, Ficker outgamed himself. He finished seventh to Payton's sixth.
Ficker and Payton swapped boats for the fourth race. Ficker went to seaward at the start, and the fleet followed the local boy. But the local boy fell below the weather mark, and the visitors were above him. Ficker crossed onto a port tack to try to make the mark, sailed over Payton's bow, and swung his stern about sharply so the two boats lay parallel on diametrically opposite courses.
Payton, on the starboard tack with right of way, was afraid their spreaders would lock as his boat straightened in Ficker's lee. He altered course. Minutes later a protest flag was flying from his shrouds. The protest was allowed, and as a result of it Jim Payton, after four races, took over the series lead with 25¼ points. The penalty imposed on Ficker dropped him back to fourth place with 18½ total points.
Despite an eighth-place finish in the seventh race, Payton, with one first, four seconds, one sixth and one eighth, held on to his point lead till the very last day. Ficker, despite his disqualification, had climbed back into second place with three firsts, a third, a fifth and a seventh. If Ficker could put three boats between himself and Jim Payton, the Mallory Cup would stay in California. All Payton had to do to be sure of the cup was to finish fourth or better.
The next morning, as the boats jockeyed before the start, Payton looked back to find Bill Ficker's boat directly on his stern. Payton tacked. Ficker tacked. Payton sailed around the committee boat. Ficker stayed with him. The start was postponed twice, and through it all Ficker stayed on Payton's tail. Then the starting gun went off.
Ficker was not sailing to insure his second place. He was sailing to win, and moments after the start it became readily apparent that his position was impossible. If he drew Payton out from the fleet, Payton would cover him. They might finish up on top or down in the middle; it made no difference to Payton. If, however, Ficker drove back into the pack, he stood to be covered by Gardner Cox, the New Jersey contender, or Florida's Paul Schreck, both of whom could improve their positions by knocking Ficker down. Ficker tried both and both failed. As Payton said afterward, "We sailed his race: we didn't sail our own." The gamesman, game to the finish, acknowledged the horns and cheers at the end of his race with a wave of his own white sailing hat.
Payton, lucky blue hat shading his sunburned nose, sailed over to the committee boat to accept a tow back to port, and promptly fell off the bow into the Pacific. "That hat's getting kind of shaggy," he said later, beaming at the 150-year-old cup on the banquet table. "It turned all green out there."