As the America's Cup observation trials began last weekend, only half of the new U.S. aluminum fleet of two was observable off Newport. Present was Courageous. Absent with leave was Mariner, her hull being hastily rebuilt at a suburban New York shipyard. If Mariner's departure temporarily diminished competition, the question of when she would return—and how much faster she then might be—did nothing to reduce suspense.
There was plenty of that already, for in last month's preliminary trials on the choppy waters of Rhode Island Sound the wondrous wooden antique, Intrepid, supposedly made obsolete by 12 meters of the newly permissible metal, fought Courageous to a standoff and trounced Mariner as convincingly as Courageous did. So the battle lines were drawn: aluminum against wood, new against old, designer against designer. Both Intrepid and Courageous are the brainchildren of Olin J. Stephens II. Mariner had sprung from the drawing board of Britton Chance Jr.
To see Stephens shuffling around the dock one would not have guessed that he had designed all but one of the postwar cup defenders. A quiet, horn-rimmed little gent with a camera slung over his shoulder-"to study the boats' performance," an aide explained—the 66-year-old Stephens could have been just another tourist out sniffing the salt air.
Chance, 34, is a brash and brilliant college dropout whose work includes the swift ocean racers Ondine and Equation. He has been nipping at Stephens' elk-hides in recent years, admitting, "I want a clear shot at Olin—the crunch, the confrontation." Indubitably he has taken a clear shot with Mariner. While Courageous is only a refinement of previous designs, Chance gave Mariner a radical shape behind the keel, a configuration of abrupt, startling angles. Fittingly, Stephens' creation was painted white, Chance's a fire-engine red.
July 21, 1974
In his zeal to apply the crunch Chance at first resisted calls for modification of Mariner. But it became obvious soon enough that the only rival Mariner could outsail was her wood-bottomed trial horse, Valiant, a beaten Stephens-designed leftover from 1970 that also went back to the boatyard for revision. As a result of the modifications, Valiant returned to Newport for the trials as a semi-serious contender. There was virtually no hope Mariner would be ready for the racing this week or next. And if she was not, Chance would be taking her cold into August's final trials, when the U.S. defender will at last be chosen.
It was an unprecedented situation, rebuilding an America's Cup boat at so late a date, but then Mariner's bid had been marked by audacity from the start. It was easy to identify Courageous with the Old Guard, and this meant not only Olin Stephens but also her skipper, 56-year-old Robert N. Bavier Jr., publisher of Yachting magazine and a certified member of the waterborne Establishment. Mariner, by contrast, offered the relative youthfulness of Chance and, at the helm, Ted Turner. A 35-year-old Atlantan who numbers among his accouterments two television stations, Robert Edward Turner III is a handsome devil with a style so lusty that the New York Yacht Club did not see fit to make him a member until a few months after he was appointed skipper of Mariner last summer.
While Mariner was undergoing minor adjustments one afternoon during the preliminary trials Turner restlessly wandered into an eatery on Newport's waterfront called Mack's Clam Shack. He lunched on steamers and shot some pool, squealing like a schoolboy whenever he sank a shot. Walking back to his boat, he gave a sudden start to see Courageous and Intrepid heading out to practice.
"I'll be damned," cried Turner, his features tightening in frustration. "Well, if they're going out, so are we." The moment passed and Mariner remained in port, but given his boat's woes, Turner was surely entitled to anxiety about being left, as it were, at the dock.
If Turner was edgy, Courageous' Bob Bavier could afford to be cool. Bavier is a white-haired figure, tall and capable, with a ruddy face lined in all the nice places and large ears that appear to be holding up his yachting cap. He seldom, if ever, raises his voice. At dockside he contentedly smoked a cigarette and said, "Unless Mariner is greatly improved by modification, it's going to be between us and Intrepid all the way. And we're going to win."
Before that might happen, however, the New York Yacht Club selectors obviously meant to give every contender ample opportunity to show what it could do. There is no room for rash decisions. Theirs, after all, is an awesome winning streak, a 123-year record of unbroken U.S. success that began when the schooner America sailed away from a fleet of 14 British boats in 1851. The spoils of that race—a trophy named after the first winner—has become the target of a succession of wealthy foreigners who recognize that wresting it away would assure them everlasting glory, or something of the sort.
This impulse explains the imminent return to Newport's cobbled Colonial streets of Marcel Bich, the French baron who got lost in the fog in 1970 and vowed jamais plus—"never again." It also accounts for the presence of Australia's Alan Bond, whose Southern Cross is favored to defeat Bich's four-year-old wooden-hulled France for the right to challenge and is given a fair-to-frightening chance of winning the America's Cup itself in September. If successful, Bond plans to defend the cup at his seaside Yanchep Sun City resort in Western Australia, using the attendant publicity to peddle vacation homes.
Such commercialism naturally horrifies right-minded Newport, which regards the America's Cup as its promotional tool. "This is an event that brings a lot of people to town," says Maria O'Malley, head of the Chamber of Commerce visitors' bureau. "I like to call the armada of spectator boats at the races our very own version of Dunkirk."
When necessary, the old seaport does know how to compensate for lost attractions. The Newport Jazz Festival has been transplanted to New York, yet visitors flock in growing numbers to the mansions of the Gilded Age, that fabled time when at least one member of Newport society bathed in the sea wearing a monocle and white straw hat. Attendance is up, in particular, at Rosecliff, fashioned after Versailles and favored by tourists ever since scenes from The Great Gatsby were filmed there. Newport is also surviving the withdrawal from Narragansett Bay of the floating Navy; the Blue Moon strip joint and adjoining pawn shops have given way to a shopping mall. With the sailors gone, the town's only surviving tattoo parlor caters to longhaired youths, including one couple who blew in from Boston to celebrate their second anniversary.
His was a buck, hers a star. "If we're crazy enough to get married, we're crazy enough to get tattooed," shrugged the husband.
But loss of the America's Cup would be hard to take. "I shudder to think of it," says Newport car dealer Mike Bove, who has given the skippers of all four U.S. boats—but significantly, neither the French nor the Aussies—free use of El Caminos. Bove's sentiments are echoed, of course, at the New York Yacht Club, where the potbellied Victorian trophy is as much a part of the furnishings as the whirring fans and red-leather couches. Financed by large syndicates, the U.S. defense effort has an institutional flavor in contrast with the one-man crusades waged by such foreign moneybags as Bond and Bich.
Given its faceless nature, the defense has a well-nigh perfect candidate for hero in the shy, painfully reticent Olin Stephens. An erudite man, Stephens is more at ease at the drawing board than in the drawing room. His office at the Manhattan firm of Sparkman & Stephens has exposed pipes, linoleum floors and bare radiators, and Stephens invariably reports to work in a dark suit and bow tie. His administrative assistant is his 88-year-old father. To suggestions that his office is musty, Stephens replies, "I don't want a fancy place. That's just putting on the dog."
For Stephens this amounts to a speech. After the launching of Courageous this spring, The New York Times was reduced to printing this exchange:
Reporter. How do you feel seeing one of your Twelves launched?
Certainly Stephens is more guarded than Brit Chance. In the days before their boats first tangled off Newport, Stephens relaxed over a biography of Frederick II, the 13th century Holy Roman Emperor, while Chance could be found astride Mariner's bow admiring the lines in a Playboy centerfold. The scion of a yachty Main Line Philadelphia family—his father won a sailing gold medal in the 1952 Olympics—Chance seldom criticizes Stephens directly. But he tends to credit the older man's successes to "the bright young assistants Olin has hired." And his irreverence goes to bedrock when he insists, "My office is dingier than Olin's." He may be right, too. Chance & Co. is in the Long Island yachting center of Oyster Bay, above a Goodyear tire dealer.
Stephens is the original designer of three of the four boats in the current trials, yet is hounded by Chance-at every turn. For example, Intrepid was hailed as a superboat in the 1967 defense only to be turned over to Chance for alterations in 1970 after Stephens began work on Valiant. "I was disappointed to see Intrepid modified," Stephens says with a proprietary air that, for him, borders on fierceness. "She'd been successful and was a yardstick of our progress in 12-meter design. With her lines changed, we lost our bench mark."
Stephens had even more cause to fret when Intrepid trounced Valiant in the '70 trials. Characteristically, Chance promotes the notion that he upstaged the old master. "Sure it was a triumph," he says. "I took an older boat and improved her."
Stephens emphatically disagrees. In his view Chance slowed down Intrepid, but the older sloop won anyway in '70 because, by Stephens' own admission, Valiant was not up to snuff. Given another crack at Intrepid, which must be suffering from schizophrenia by now, Stephens has all but restored her to her 1967 lines. To confuse matters further, Valiant landed in the Mariner syndicate, and Chance wound up altering another Stephens creaation. Talk about schizophrenia, the latest revisions have put Valiant back approximately to her 1970 Stephens configuration. So the early superiority of Courageous and Intrepid plus the restoration of Valiant put Stephens a long way up on Chance at the moment.
For Olin Stephens to get anywhere with Courageous, however, it was necessary to survive some rough going. For a few days last winter fund-raising troubles brought construction to a halt. A reorganization got things rolling again, but not before business commitments forced Bill Ficker, winning helmsman on Intrepid in 1970, to withdraw as skipper. He was succeeded by Bob Bavier, who is no stranger to last-minute calls. In 1964 Constellation had been floundering when Bavier was put in command. The Stephens-designed sloop won the trials and defended the cup by taking four straight races from Britain's Sovereign.
It was with equal dispatch that Bavier showed up at last month's New York Yacht Club regatta on Long Island Sound and guided Courageous to two straight wins over Mariner in the informal competitive debuts of both boats. Then the Courageous crew settled comfortably into Hammersmith Farm, the Hugh D. Auchincloss Newport estate and sometime childhood home of Jacqueline Onassis. It is a splendid place, surrounded by sloping lawns and set on high bluffs overlooking the bay, and Bavier seemed slightly embarrassed to be there.
"We're not spoiled rich boys up here to enjoy the summer," Bavier said as he left Hammersmith one morning bound for the docks. Behind the wheel of his courtesy-of-Mike-Bove El Camino, he spoke feelingly of the America's Cup. "It's a fantastic sports event," he said. "More time, money and talent go into it than any other sailing race. And the fact that the cup has never been lost gives it excitement. It also creates responsibilities. Nobody wants to be the first to lose it. We're here to do a job."
The mission thus described allows for no complacency. Even after Mariner was vanquished on Long Island Sound, Olin Stephens proposed moving Courageous' mast eight inches aft. Bavier, playing the devil's advocate, said, "We looked pretty good on the Sound, Olin. You really want to do this?"
"You bet I do," snapped the designer. The mast was moved.
Mariner's organizers at least were spared major financing problems. They assigned ownership of their boat to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy—hence the name Mariner—in an arrangement that presumably makes contributions tax-deductible. Courageous' backers had loftily rejected a similar scheme as "inappropriate." It seemed somehow fitting that Mariner's crew was staying in Newport at Salve Regina College, which was also playing host to a retreat for 400 disciples of Swami Satchidanandaji Maharaj. But the sailors and the yogis never met. The guru's followers kept to themselves, observing silence and seeking bliss through meditation.
The men of Mariner were meditative, too, none more deeply than Ted Turner. Mariner's skipper is one of the ablest sailors on the sea, but between his cleft chin and mustache is a mouth that never stops. Aboard his own boats, Turner exhorts his crews, quotes from Vergil and endlessly paints the air blue. He has compiled a brilliant ocean-racing record and has twice been named U.S. yachtsman of the year.
Turner is just as vocal on land. He theorizes that the reason the New York Yacht Club was long content without his company was that he once called club members stuffy old codgers. He says it was an unavoidable indiscretion, explaining, "I was crocked at the time." Adopting a more diplomatic policy in Newport, Turner proclaimed, "I say only nice things about people now." Accordingly, he has staunchly refused to criticize Brit Chance in public.
"We're not looking for people to blame," Turner says. "We're trying to solve problems."
There were enough of those. Complaining that Mariner's aluminum wheel was slippery when wet, Turner ordered a custom-made rawhide cover, an $80 extravagance that annoyed George Hinman—especially since Hinman, the Mariner syndicate manager and 1974 skipper of Valiant, had no such cover on his wheel.
Then there was Brit Chance's reluctance to accept defeat. As customary in the creation of most U.S. Twelves, Chance had tested five-foot models—at some $1,200 a day—in the tanks at Stevens Institute in Hoboken, N.J. He was satisfied with the results. "Testing is controlled," he insisted. "In general, I'd take test results over race results." When syndicate members grumbled that the boat was a flop, Chance sulked. "God, Brit, we're grown men," Hinman pleaded at one point. "Can't we even say what we think?"
Of the several embarrassments that finally sent Chance back to the drawing board, the worst came one crisp, metallic-skyed afternoon during the June trials in a race against Courageous. The margin was so great—nearly 10 minutes over a 21.7-mile course—that even the Goodyear blimp hovering overhead might have had trouble keeping both yachts in view at once. Afterward a glum Brit Chance was observing silence, like the followers of Swami Satchidanandaji.
By contrast, Intrepid's supporters were as vocal as Chance was silent. The West Coast interests that had resurrected her have a "people's" campaign going. Into this most dignified of sporting classics, an event that flourishes without TV revenues or paid admission—and nary a single STP sticker on any hull—they have injected a touch of pizzazz, including the unheard-of step of advertising for donations in boating magazines.
Intrepid went into the sea off San Diego in February, giving her a two-month head start in crew preparation over her aluminum rivals. This was an apparent factor in one of her two preliminary-trial wins over Courageous, whose crew required an agonizing four minutes to get the spinnaker down after rounding a mark. The crew gap will likely narrow in time, but Skipper Gerry Driscoll's old campaigner had also proved quickest to windward of the four U.S. Twelves.
"New designs are assumed to be faster in auto racing or boats, but it doesn't always work out that way, does it?" Driscoll said wickedly. Driscoll, a baldish San Diego boatbuilder, has twice triumphed in Congressional Cup match racing and once was world champion in Star boats. He added, "We're fast—just as fast as Courageous."
Next to those pretty young aluminum beauties, Intrepid was a weight-conscious dowager. Aluminum has the advantage of being lighter than wood, and Intrepid was being dry-sailed—hoisted out each evening so as not to absorb more water and become still heavier. It also helped that her mast was made of titanium, a weight-saving metal banned on new Twelves. Meanwhile, with the "people's" campaign still $178,000 shy of its $750,000 goal, Eustace (Sunny) Vynne Jr. was forever running to the phone to drum up contributions. Vynne is syndicate manager on behalf of the Seattle Sailing Foundation, the boat's owner, and after one strong Intrepid showing he taped a gust-by-gust account that was played at a fund-raising dinner the same night at the Tacoma Yacht Club. The next day, Vynne happily reported, "They raised $1,200."
And so, for now anyway, it was Intrepid against Courageous, the one seeking to defend the America's Cup an unprecedented third time, the other out to prove that Reynolds is good for something other than flip-top cans. In the water, too, was Valiant, with Mariner soon to follow—and George Hinman's syndicate playing catch-up.
"The important thing is that the America's Cup is defended," he said one afternoon. "Who defends it really doesn't matter." But Hinman is loyal to the truth as well as the cup. Lowering his voice, he added, "I'll probably be shot for saying it, but do you know what I'd do if I had all the money in the world to put into one boat?" There was yearning in his eyes. "I'd build Intrepid in aluminum."