The Object Is to Win the Race
There's always a big wind there, and there's always a big sea running. It's tricky and it's dangerous. A man has his hands full driving up the Molokai Channel."
So says Sumner A. Long ("My friends call me Huey") of the waters pictured on the opposite page. Long knows what he is talking about. Twice in the past he has driven up the Molokai at the end of a Trans-Pacific Race, and he probably would be a part of the 31-boat fleet heading out for it once again this week except that he is busy on another ocean. As Long's old rivals start across 2,225 miles from Los Angeles to Hawaii, Long and his 57-foot yawl Ondine are leaving Newport, R.I., bound for England's Eddystone Rock, in a revival of a transatlantic racing classic that has not been run since 1931.
Neither Huey Long nor Ondine was around in the 1930s, but in the '60s and late '50s few important ocean races have been sailed without them. In the 1961 Trans-Pacific Race, Long sailed Ondine to a second place on corrected time. The year before that he was Class A winner in the Bermuda-to-Sweden race. He has sailed the famed biennial 635-mile Bermuda Race four times running, races of the Southern Circuit three times. He has sailed in the Annapolis-Newport race, the Block Island race, the Storm Trysail race, has twice raced from Miami to Montego Bay and twice from Buenos Aires to Rio.
At one time or another Long and Ondine have raced England's Cowes and around the buoys in Long Island Sound, and Long is the only American ever to have entered Australia's Sydney-Hobart race. Since her launching slightly more than three years ago, the present Ondine has, in fact, sailed more than 77,500 miles, the equivalent of three times around the world or one-third of the way to the moon, traveling at an average speed of three and one-half knots. Her owner has traveled even farther and very considerably faster.
Huey Long is a product of middle-class Boston suburbia who looks a little like George Raft and a little more like the grinning cartoon face that asks, "What, me worry?" That very face, in fact, grins from an ashtray on his desk in the offices of Long, Quinn and Boylan, 37 floors above New York's Park Avenue. From there Huey directs 12 different shipping firms and a vast fleet of commercial ships. Keeping a secretary and at least two telephones busy at once, Huey recently answered a reporter's questions, dictated a business letter, held a phone conversation with Ondine,s professional sailing master (who was beset with haul-out problems), challenged an employee's methods in negotiating a deal ("You trying to make us look cheap?") and concluded a deal of his own for $6 million. Then he picked up a gym bag and went off to Vic Tanny's to lift some weights—"just to keep from getting rusty."
The rust prevention continued with several vodka Martinis at The Four Seasons, and another after a shower in Long's Sutton Place apartment, which is a comfortable, cluttered blend of sportsman's trophy room and interior-decorator French. To frighten prospective brides away from this bachelor sanctum, a monstrous blue sailfish looms ominously on one wall. After his shower Long was off again double-time across town (no cabs were handy) to pick up a date—who was just as pretty but no brighter than the one he had had the night before—for more Martinis and dinner with a Greek shipping line representative at an expensive East Side restaurant. After that there was a dash downtown for a late show at the Bon Soir, where a false-nosed fellow imitating Rosemary Clooney had him in stitches. At 8:45 the next morning Long was back at his desk, with his motor racing again.
Born 41 years ago, Huey Long experienced no special kind of childhood to fan a competitive spirit to flame. "Yet," he says, "competition has been the strongest single force in my life. Winning—winning at anything I undertake—is the goal. Take the firm. People ask me why I'm not satisfied with my fair share of the market. I say because unless we fight to get every last bit of it we won't get our fair share."
Long discovered early that his share of life was to come via the sea. As a boy he played hooky from school to wander down through Boston's Faneuil Hall market to the docks on Atlantic Avenue, there to watch the ships come in. "I looked at them," he says, "and I guess I had in mind someday I'd like to own them." He sailed toy boats on the Charles and, he says, "sometimes they would sail right away from me." He collected stamps and coins. "Just looking at them was adventure," he says. "I was fascinated by the origins of stamps, by the figureheads on foreign coins, by the idea that these represented countries I had not even seen." He no longer collects either. "I've seen all the places," he explains.
Long got his first lessons in navigation as a cadet at a nautical prep school, went on to the United States Merchant Marine Academy at King's Point and then served for two years aboard an oil tanker and a passenger ship meandering along the northern and eastern coasts of South America. "It gave me a healthy respect for the sea," he says. "In a hurricane off Cape Hatteras, I was 17, standing night watch. I couldn't see for the wind and rain. The storm broke up the life boats, smashed the serving china. The ship was rolling 33 degrees. And for the first time in my life, I was seasick."
Long went into World War II as third officer on a merchant marine vessel, came out of it acting chief officer and went off to complete his education at MIT. "There's a bond among MIT men," he said recently, leafing through an alumni roster. "It's a bond of respect, not the social bond of Ivy Leaguers." Long paid his way by standing all night watches three times a week on vessels docked in Boston harbor. In 1947 he received his degree in marine transportation and went to work for a New York City shipping firm.
"For two years," he recalls with some melancholy, "I .saw little of the opposite sex. I was too busy learning the shipping business. If my competition got in the office at 9, I'd get in at 7. If they left at 5, I'd leave at 8."
The onerous hours paid off. Long came upon a tanker that was up for charter and offered it to his firm. The firm turned it down, so Long himself arranged to charter it to another company. He was promptly fired, but the head of the other company, T. J. Stevenson, was interested.
"Have you ever done any charter business before?" Stevenson asked Long. Long said he had not, other than the ship he had just arranged for Stevenson.
"Then start a charter department for me," the shipping man told Huey.
A year later, in 1949, Long left Stevenson to become a partner in a ship brokerage corporation. A year after that he started his own firm. "By the time I was 30," he says now, "I was a millionaire on paper. But money in itself has no significance. It's only important in terms of what a man can build with it. I made it build."
S. A. Long, Inc. was soon enlarged to include a second firm, Long and Quinn, Inc., then Long Ships, Inc., then Long, Quinn & Boylan. Eight more firms were still to come, each rich in commercial vessels. But Huey's yearning to compensate for the toy ships that sailed so blithely away from him on the Charles River was still not satisfied. Lounging on a Newark pier one day in 1951, he watched a 40-foot yawl named Blue Cloud moving gracefully up the harbor. "Someday," he told himself, "I'm going to buy that boat." Six months later Blue Cloud belonged to Huey Long.
Huey at last owned a real sailboat, but he did not know how to sail it. One wild day, as he attempted to take his new toy from Newark to Larchmont, with a raw crew and the wind kicking up to 35 miles an hour, Long Island Sound boiled up into a frothy chop. Not another boat was in sight. "We were half dead when we finally got in," Long recalls. "We picked up the mooring, took the launch into the dock, and there was a fellow named Arthur Knapp out there waiting for us. He got us dry clothes, a drink, and I made a deal with him. Arthur would teach me to sail if I would teach him to ski."
Long could scarcely have gotten a better teacher. Arthur Knapp has won sailing trophies in virtually every kind of racing yacht, from a 12-foot frostbiter to the cup defender Weatherly. He tutored Huey on Blue Cloud, on its successor, a sloop named Mambo, and on still another boat—one that Long spotted in a cradle on the ways in a German shipyard. "I saw the beautiful lines Henry Rasmussen had given this boat," Long recalls with feeling, "her narrow beam, her long overhang. She was as sleek as a greyhound, as if she were racing even while still in her cradle." Long bought the 52-foot beauty, named her Ondine, "after the sea nymph," and turned her helm over to Knapp.
A couple of years later Everett Morris, dean of U.S. yachting writers, wrote of a race sailed by Long: "Ondine, with Arthur Knapp as senior member of the afterguard, made every mark a winner."
"You've no idea," says competition-minded Huey Long today, "how those words got to me. I could hear people saying all over, 'Sure, he did well. Why wouldn't he, with Knapp aboard?' I felt deeply indebted to Arthur, but I wanted to spread my own wings."
In the beginning he didn't spread them very far. Ondine finished 14th in her first race under Huey's guidance, and won only once in a full year of campaigning. "But," says Long, "that one victory whetted my appetite for more. I wanted to win something big—an ocean race. The greatest joy in yacht racing is to win.
"There are fantastic days of beautiful sunrises, of gorgeous sunsets. You see porpoises on the water, whales sounding in the sea. On a good day you might even do some fishing, and wind up with a fresh fish in the pan. There's the comradeship of a crew working together, the intense preoccupation with the race which precludes thinking of any other problem. There's the thrill of making a perfect landfall after long days at sea. You've tested your skill in navigation and seamanship, and you've succeeded.
"But make no mistake. These are only incidentals. None of them matters alongside winning the race."
Long's fierce desire to win is perhaps most clearly reflected in his defeats. He had four consecutive firsts going into the Marian-Padanarum race off Cape Cod last year, then he lost the race by one second. "One second. Oh, God." He explodes recalling it. "I couldn't talk to anyone. I kept adding up the number of times we could have saved one second. If we'd tacked earlier, if we'd set a spinnaker sooner, if I'd paid closer attention to helmsmanship. To appreciate victory," says Huey Long, "a man has to understand defeat."
The greatest defeat Long has yet been forced to suffer occurred in November 1959, when he was not even aboard his boat. He was attending a cocktail party in New York. His sailing master and a crew were taking Ondine to Barbados. At 3 a.m. Long received a long-distance telephone call from the Coast Guard: "Ondine has run aground on a reef off Anegada Island. All hands have been saved." They wanted him to go down to the wreck. "It was all gone. All my plans," he says, even now with considerable difficulty. "It was as if somebody had called up and said, 'Come and look at your wife's body. Come and see it, all broken up.' I wouldn't go down to look." But in May 1960 a sleek, new pale-blue aluminum yawl—the first aluminum sailing yacht of its size ever built—slipped down into the waters of Oyster Bay on Long Island, and Huey Long was once more making plans. Less than a month later the new Ondine, with Long at the helm, led the fleet out from Brenton Reef light bound for Bermuda.
That was the year of the big blow, when masts snapped, hulls opened up and men were swept off into the sea. When the storm first hit, Ondine changed course to avoid the terrible pressures of gusts up to 60 miles an hour. For 30 minutes she ran before the wind. Then Long brought her about. "We're going back on course," he shouted over the roar. "The object is to win." He added practically, "Besides, there are over 100 boats behind us to pick up survivors. If the rigging is going to go, better it should go now."
The rigging held, but instead of winning, Long finished ninth in his class. A week later he was off again, this time across 3,500 miles of ocean to the coast of Sweden. It was bitter cold off the Orkneys, the water was 35°, the air about 45°, and the wind was blowing a full gale. For a day and a half Ondine plunged through huge seas, shuddering from the top of one monstrous wave, then plunging down into a trough ahead of the next. Long, at the helm, muttered to himself, "I only hope the welds hold."
The welds did hold, as the rigging had off Bermuda, and the entire city of Marstrand turned out on the docks to welcome Ondine as she swept into the harbor, first in Class A.
Last winter—just as if she had not had enough of ocean racing—Huey Long sent Ondine out across another 10,300 miles of ocean to take part in the classic Sydney-Hobart race, which had always been considered too far away for any foreign boat to bother with. The Aussies were cordial but skeptical when the graceful craft from the U.S. turned up in their waters. "Ondine is lovely, but tender," they wrote, implying that a good puff of rugged Australian wind would surely knock her out of competition.
The wind was blowing a good 30 knots at the start of the race. "We broke two poles and blew out a No. 3 spinnaker in that blow," remembers Long, but 640 miles later, when the wind had dropped and Ondine was ghosting along toward the finish line in Hobart's Derwent River, a tiny puff sent her past the 73-foot schooner Astor to cross the line first by a scant 100 yards. The largest crowd ever to witness a sporting event in Hobart gave out three rousing cheers. Down came Ondine's sails, up went the Stars and Stripes and Huey Long broke out bottles of cold Aussie beer for his crew.
"The feeling," he says, "was warm. Warm and overwhelming."