'I AM NOW 34 YEARS OLD AND CRAZY'
Twenty-four years ago, in Parramatta, Australia, a carefree boy of 10 spent his afternoons perfecting a special and totally useless art. Crouched behind a privet hedge, he would press gobs of wet clay on the tip of a springy staff. Then he would deftly flick the clay missiles into the air and watch them travel up, up, up in an exquisite trajectory until they landed with a splat on the facade of the Masonic temple across the street. If he put one or more shots inside the letter O in the word Masonic, young Warwick Hood considered the afternoon a success.
Although today Warwick Hood is a responsible adult, with a wife and two daughters, a mortgage on his house and a car not yet paid for, he is currently engaged in another odd pursuit that is just as unnecessary as tossing mud balls at a local temple, though it is somewhat more challenging. Summing up his present quest, Warwick Hood says simply, "I am now 34 years old and crazy. I am a naval architect who is trying to win the America's Cup."
For nearly five months, beginning last January, Hood's challenger sailed circles around her only rival, the 1962 cup boat, Gretel, in Australian waters, showing both the speed and the brittleness of a Thoroughbred. Named for the wife of a former Prime Minister, Dame Pattie is now on her way, by freighter, to the U.S. to face whatever American boat is chosen to meet her. In the pubs of Sydney the race is already under way. Dame Pattie is the darling of the daily press. She has appeared frequently on television, and if you want to know anything about 12-meter boats in Australia today it is not necessary to look up Designer Warwick Hood or his former employer, Alan Payne, who designed Gretel. You can find a 12-meter expert in any saloon.
June 4, 1967
Over the past few months, whenever the Dame fouled a halyard or popped a fitting. Designer Hood got a plethora of advice and expertise from all sorts of people. "Dear Mr. Hood," a letter might read, "I hear that you are having trouble with your mast, and I have a suggestion. I am a grazier in Bourke, and although I have never sailed a boat or been on one, the other day I was looking at my windmill and it occurred to me that you should..."
All over Sydney during the one-sided trials against Gretel hopes for the Dame ran high, although there were many doubters. One day last January a gray-haired blue-water skipper caught sight of Vim, the aged American 12-meter, riding on her mooring in Sydney Harbor, and mistook her (God knows how) for Hood's boat. "Ah, there's the Dame Pattie," the grizzled skipper exclaimed proudly, feasting his eyes on the antiquated lines of old Vim. "Right now a quid of mine says she takes the cup."
A taxi driver bogged down in the traffic on the Sydney Harbor Bridge thought differently. "The Dame's not got a chance," he said dolefully. "She's got a crook mast. The Yanks passed a law that won't allow her to use good wood in her mast." (Actually, all of the Dame's masts, crook or uncrook, are made of aluminum, by choice, not by Yankee decree.)
If perchance there should be a bit more magic in Dame Pattie than in any of the prospective U.S. defenders (the rebuilt Columbia, the new Intrepid and the doughty American Eagle); if, moreover, the Australian helmsman, Jock Sturrock, can do as well across the starting line as he did with Gretel in 1962; and if the new Australian sailcloth, KAdron, is indeed as good as American Dacron, the cup will leave the New York Yacht Club for the first time in history. Then Designer Warwick Hood will become quite famous. He may never be knighted like Donald Bradman, the cricketer, or stuffed and put on display like Phar Lap, the wonder horse, but for sure his name will be shouted around for a while, accompanied by a great outpouring of beer.
On the other hand, if one of the Dame's halyards should foul or a spreader buckle at a crucial moment off Brenton Reef, or if Sturrock should drop a spinnaker too soon, or if the deck apes should get tangled in the sheets, or the afterguard's strategy prove unwise, Warwick Hood will be remembered simply as another errant knight who was struck down by an impossible windmill.
It is reckoned that this Australian challenge will cost more than 500,000 Australian dollars. But quite beyond the money, which was given in the main by big corporations, a great many individuals down under—shipwrights, riggers, sailmakers and crewmen—have given much of their time both to the Dame and to the ill-fated Gretel, which won only two out of 13 trial races against the new boat, and those because of accidents to her rival. Of all these individuals none has more at stake than Hood, who is not only giving time he should devote to more profitable work but is also laying his professional reputation on the line. Although he is aware that after every challenge the rats of hindsight always come to gnaw on the carcass of the losing designer, Hood—curiously—is the most relaxed man on the Australian team.
An America's Cup quest, with its long preparation, its days of crisis and its hours of doubt, is not compatible with the temperament of the typical Australian sailor, who is more inclined to hop in a boat with little preliminary fuss and have a bashing time of it racing around the buoys. An all-sports addict in Sydney named Jay Mayes snorts: "The America's Cup! It is months of toil and trial and furor and God knows what all. And for what? For a few races far across the sea. Meanwhile right here in Sydney Harbor our bloody beautiful 18-foot boats are at each other's throats every weekend."
The man who built the Dame, a feisty, red-haired 51-year-old shipwright named Billy Barnett, is himself an 18-footer champion. He won four national titles a dozen years ago sailing these open, overcanvased boats that skitter wildly around Sydney Harbor on weekends. Builder Barnett now serves in the Dame's afterguard and finds it beggarly toil compared to the rambunctious action he used to enjoy in the 18-footers. "It's enough to drive you up the drain," he says. "It's that boring, you know. The 12-meter racing is all right, but the training side of it is just a bore." Since Barnett feels that way, why did he take on the job of building the Dame? He shrugs and smiles. "Because everyone said, 'You're mad. You can't do it.' So I took it on."
Although Warwick Hood manages to stay loose, some of the other Australian 12-meter nuts got rather tensed up early in the game. They saw spies in the shadows and found double meaning in the symposium of ordinary talk. When an American correspondent came to town to write a story about the cup quest, the word went out: a snooper is loose. When Ted Hood, the American sailmaker (and no kin to Warwick), passed through Sydney, he, too, was dubbed a snooper. Discovering that Warwick Hood has a man from Stonington, Conn. on his payroll, a member of the Dame Pattie syndicate took him aside to ask, "What's that Yank doing in your office?"
When things are really going badly, Jock Sturrock, the Dame's helmsman, exudes about as much Old World charm as a Queensland crocodile. Skipper Sturrock's attitude radiates outward, affecting some members of his team and wasting itself on others, who know how to be serious in purpose and light in heart. Hood has remained a favorite of the television crews in Australia largely because he made their work easier in a strange way. As one TV cameraman put it, "Most of the America's Cuppers have their jaws set, as if they were suffering from stomach gas. But Warwick Hood gives you a big smile. Even in low light you can usually get a good focus off the cracks in his teeth."
Pondering tension that was prevalent all over Sydney during the early trials, Colin Ryrie, an Olympic sailor who served in Gretel's afterguard, said, "Australians are not normally secretive. I think the least understandable feature of the 12-meter project here is that we tried to build enormous secrecy around Gretel and Dame Pattie. This 12-meter business does seem to transform people who are usually easygoing into intense creatures."
Ryrie is a reasonable authority on this phenomenon, since he was one of the principals involved in what is now known among Sydney yachtsmen as the Battle of Berry's Bay. It so happened that in March of 1966 Paul Elvstrom of Denmark, the world's best around-the-buoys skipper and the only man to win gold medals in four Olympic Games, passed through Sydney on his way to the world 5-0-5 sailing championship in Adelaide. Naturally, as a sailor of many classes and distinctions, Elvstrom was interested in looking at both of the Australian 12-meter hulls—the new Dame, then being built, and old Gretel, under alteration. Since he was an old friend and rival, Colin Ryrie took the visiting Dane along with another sailor, Pierre Poulain of France, around to Barnett's boatyard in an outboard runabout. Poulain, unfortunately, had a camera. As Ryrie recalls, "He had it hanging around his neck like an American tourist." Although all Ryrie, and hence Poulain's lens, could see of the Dame was a nubby end protruding out of the boat shed, the voice of Shipwright Billy Barnett suddenly poured out of an upper-story window. "Strong Australian language," Ryrie remembers. In the next instant a three-foot piece of hardwood timber sailed out of the window, missing the boat by a few yards. The timber was followed by more strong Australian language, whereupon the combined Danish-French-Australian landing party withdrew, with Elvstrom exclaiming in fractured English, "That man are mad."
Since he earns his living as managing editor of the Australian monthly Modern Boating, Ryrie attended the official launching of the Dame five months later. The Danish sailor was not with him then, but for the occasion Ryrie and two colleagues, the editor and advertising manager of Modern Boating, all rented Viking helmets and shields from a theatrical supply house.
When Warwick Hood accepted the job of designing a new 12-meter three years ago, his father pointed out that he would be in good company, since the first shipbuilding "rule" was laid down by the Lord when He gave Noah the specifications for the Ark (Genesis 6:14-16). But, despite his seemingly high professional connections, for a while it seemed someone up there did not like Warwick Hood. On the Dame's, first trial the main halyard fouled. On the second day out, with Hood himself at the helm in an easy five-knot breeze, a spreader suddenly buckled and the Dame's mast crashed into the sea. As he sat beside the tangle of sailcloth, shrouds and stays, Hood's first comment was a brief appeal, sotto voce, direct to the Supreme Naval Architect. Later he announced cheerfully to the sad and irate humans around him, "Every fast 12-meter in the world has broken her mast."
"Some people were ready to hang him," Colin Ryrie relates. "But I'll say this for Hood, he was a very calm person. He never lets failures or successes go to his head. When things look black he can smile, and when things look terribly rosy he can be realistic."
When her mast was mended the Dame began to look very good indeed as she galloped around on the rolling Pacific. Hopes soared. Warwick Hood became a hero, so much a hero that his bank manager extended his credit. In January the Dame won two of the first three official races against her rival. She took the first race in heavy weather; then, in the second, she beat Gretel in light air as decisively as the U.S. defender, Weatherly, had done in 1962. In the third race, in winds rising to 20 knots, the Dame was more than four minutes ahead, punching through eight-foot swells, 250 yards from the finish line, when—whoopsy!—her mast came down again. For the benefit of the legion of skeptics that was instantly reborn, Designer Hood declared, "We now have the only 12-meter in the world that has broken her mast twice." After the second disaster a stiffer, less sophisticated mast was stepped in the Dame. Meanwhile Gretel, whose new look has proved disappointing, went back to the shipyard to have her bottom reshaped.
News of the cup has been known to make the front page in the U.S., but only during the heat of the races themselves. In the early stages of the game, before serious trials have even begun, if one U.S. designer stole the plans and the wife of a rival the whole affair would rate a few paragraphs in the second section of most American newspapers. Not so in Australia. The press there gives the cup a big play whenever there is news about it—and sometimes when there isn't any. One morning last winter (his summer) the Dame's helmsman, Jock Sturrock, awoke to find himself saying—in inch-high type—that his boat was the fastest 12-meter ever built. Since he did not recall either saying or thinking such a thing, this irked Sturrock.
At another time the Sydney Sun, a daily adept at turning almost any wisp of smoke into a bonfire, brushed aside the Vietnam war, Mao Tse-tung's troubles and Sophia Loren's miscarriage and gave over its front page to the rumor that Warwick Hood was about to design another 12-meter, faster than the Dame. This newsbreak kept Hood's phone—and the phones of several irritated neighbors—busy with calls from faraway places like Canberra, Alice Springs and New York City.
Because they love to keep fit by fighting among themselves, few Australians consider the America's Cup a simple two-sided contest. During the time of the trials it was the Dame versus Gretel versus the Yanks—a three-way war loaded with intrigue and machinations. The arrival of a "secret shipment" of mahogany in Sydney in June 1966 started the rumor that the Gretel syndicate was building a new boat. In revealing that the latest Australian sailcloth was proving as good as American cloth, one journal confided that its report was based on "an admission wrung unwillingly from a conservative fellow," thus suggesting to its readers that some textile worker had been tortured, medieval style, until the secret simply oozed out of him.
At the start of the trials, even the Melbourne Age, a paper usually as drably factual as a tide calendar, was prompted to forecast, "Intense rivalry will develop between the Australian syndicates, with a good amount of speculation and polite spying by all—Americans included."
Why does the cup, a Yankee keepsake for 116 years, excite and incite Australians so? Quite simply, because it is in their stars. Ever since they took a slow boat halfway around the world to the first modern Olympics, Australian sportsmen have been traveling far and paying dearly to try for all sorts of honors and queer prizes—and the America's Cup is just about as expensive and queer a prize as you can find. The fact that a challenge involves a tremendous expenditure of time, money and technology merely spurs Australians on, for they are the world's greatest gamblers.
The first Australian challenge was launched with Gretel in 1962 by Sir Frank Packer, the witty, hurly-burly overlord of a Sydney publishing empire. When Sir Frank was asked what provoked him into trying, he replied, "Alcohol and delusions of grandeur." Recently, when asked why he undertook the design of Australia's first challenger, Naval Architect Alan Payne said with a shake of his head and a slow smile, "Because I was right for the job. In Australia there was no one who knew how to sail anything like a 12-meter. There was no one who knew how to build anything like a 12-meter. Since I had no experience designing a 12-meter, I fitted perfectly into the whole crazy affair."
Because he had served as Payne's assistant during Gretel's challenge, Warwick Hood was well aware of the damaging effect such an enterprise can have on a naval architect's livelihood—the steady customers drifting away while the architect labors to give birth to a useless racing machine.
Having seen Payne fold up his shop largely as a consequence of his devotion to Gretel, Hood was resolved never to get involved in the design of another challenger. Then, four months before the futile English challenge of 1964, an affluent Melbournite named Otto Meik said to Hood at lunch, "Let's face it, Warwick, the English are going to lose, and I reckon we ought to have another go at it. Will you design a boat?" As Hood recalls, without waiting for instructions from his brain his mouth immediately opened and let out the word yes. In the three years following that first, fateful word Hood has traveled far—to Newport to watch England's Sovereign take a beating, to Scotland to confer with Designer David Boyd, whose record of cup failures (Sceptre, Sovereign and Kurrewa V) comes close to matching that of Sir Thomas Lipton, and to various sacred wells of technology like MIT and Stevens Institute. Hood and his assistants spent 10,000 hours designing and redesigning, testing in tanks and tunnels, feeding data to a computer and ruminating on its digested fact. They tried seven different models and up to 15 variations of some of them. An odd, upside-down rudder was tested and incorporated because it seemed to offer the advantage of a few hundredths of a knot. Modification No. 3 of model No. 7, complete with upside-down rudder, finally became the expensive reality now known as the Dame.
She is not a lovely boat. She has none of the wanton, cloudlike beauty of the old J boats, none of the extravagant good looks even of old 12-meter girls like Vim and Evaine. In profile she is stubby, knuckle-bowed. Head on, she is fine, V-shaped—hatchet-faced, as it were. She was designed not to dance over the slop-chop of the sea but to punch through it. She shows tenderness in soft air, but she stiffens surprisingly when the wind is up.
Though she is certainly the most efficient and fastest 12-meter challenger yet built, the Dame is not, in a strict sense, a ship well found. Warwick Hood designed her, not to roam the seven seas, but explicitly to win four good races next September in the fluky winds and sloppy waters off Newport. The Dame is sparsely framed and has only a single skin. Although he is most proud of her, Hood admits with refreshing candor, "The Dame leaks like a bloody basket. She has more pumps in her than an ocean liner. You must remember, 12-meters are a development class: the yacht built for one challenge has little chance in the next. Even if she wins the cup, about the best thing we could do with the Dame after September is chop her up and sell her as firewood to the poor people of Redfern."
If Hood's Dame should win, it is hoped that the good people of Australia will not go overboard and erect a statue in his honor. Warwick Hood is a personable man, good-looking and popular, but he is not the sort who would look right immobilized in bronze in a public park, with pigeon droppings on his head and prams full of babies at his feet. Visually speaking, Warwick Hood is anything but august; as statue material he is an undignified failure.
As Hood goes about his daily business, his shirttail is often aflap, his navel exposed. Although professionally he is accustomed to pursuing any questionable matter to the third decimal place, his everyday manner and gait are anything but measured. He frequently bounds around like a larky ruggerman who lost the last of his brains a hundred scrums ago. Even when engaged in heady conversation in the bar of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, his necktie is often askew and he keeps brushing his hair off his forehead and laughing uproariously like a boy.
Some months back, when the Dome was sailing alone and Gretel was in the shed. Designers Hood and Payne met on the walkway outside the Yacht Squadron. "To keep you from worrying about what we're doing to Gretel," Payne said, "I'll tell you. We're making the bow finer and the stern fuller."
"But you just got through making the stern finer," said Hood.
"I know," Payne answered, "and now we're making it fuller again."
Hood subsequently had a drawing of Gretel made up to present to Payne. The drawing showed Gretel divided into three parts, with zippers so that various bow and stern sections could be taken on and off.
Both Hood and Payne insist that naval architecture is a cold technology where classic disciplines count heavily and inspiration barely at all. But both men, in their manner, belie their claim. After talking for an hour about turbulence, laminar flow and reynolds numbers, Hood will suddenly break away from technology and bring up the extraneous tale that the foundry workers employed by the old Italian master Cellini once burned the furniture to keep the fire going under a precious casting. He reckons there is some parallel to be drawn between Cellini's Renaissance artisans and the 20th century craftsmen who toil over a useless 12-meter yacht while their practical livelihood floats out the window.
Discussing the 12-meter designs of his U.S. rival Olin Stephens in cold technical terms a few months ago, Hood recalled Vim, Stephens' beautiful old seagoing dodo. He remembered that it was Vim that had first infected him with the 12-meter plague. "Sir Frank Packer rented Vim," he related, "and I was working for Alan Payne when she arrived in Sydney. I watched this thing called Vim lifted in a cradle from a boat deck. I had never seen a 12-meter before—only pictures and a book, Summer of the Twelves by Carleton Mitchell. Have you ever read the Revelation of St. John the Divine in that wild book, the Bible? It tells of someone who sees something clearly for the first time in his heart and in his mind. That is how I saw Vim, a revelation. In a few weeks we put spars in her and went sailing, and nothing like it had ever happened to me before. Vim was nervous and alive; the wind hardly blew, yet she galloped in the harbor. I spent three months on Vim, looking her over, measuring her, fiddling, doing all sorts of things, knowing that somewhere in this boat was the genius of her designer, Olin Stephens."
After several minutes of such inspirational spouting, Hood settled back into cold technology, discoursing slowly on the relation of keel shape to forward thrust. Within 10 minutes the living, breathing, gambling Australian in him came out again. "There has never been a second place in the America's Cup," he said. "You don't come first or second. You come first or last. You know what I'd like to see happen at Newport this September? Each boat take three races. Then the seventh and final race, a bloody cliff-hanger. Gawd, what a show that would be."