Dennis (the Menace) Conner vs. Robert Edward (Terrible Ted) Turner. They have raced many times before, and this week they're mixing it up again in the first round of the most prolonged sailing test of all: the summer-long trials to select a defender of the America's Cup.
To judge solely by the records of the two men, it should be an even go. Around the buoys and on the open sea, in match races and fleet races, in boats large and small, they have both been consistent front-runners, progressing ever upward, sometimes on collision courses, sometimes on diverging ones. They both have boats of proved worth. Turner will be at the helm of Courageous, the winning hull when new in 1974 and again when he defended the Cup in 1977. Conner will be sailing a new boat, Freedom, which after a year of pacing and racing has proved a shade superior to her stablemate, Enterprise, the runner-up to Courageous three years ago.
Over the years, as designers have produced 12-meter hulls more and more alike and sailmakers have grown wiser and wiser (and richer), competition among those vying for the defender's berth has become closer. There will be few times this summer when one boat easily marches away from another, consuming spectators with boredom before the first rounding mark. What makes the trials still more appealing, particularly for buffs who dote on long shots, is that a third skipper, a genuine underdog named Russell Long, will be competing in a brand-new, dark-blue hull called Clipper.
Twenty-four-year-old Russell Long of New York City has seen only two America's Cup races and was bored by both. Until last summer he had never been on a 12-meter, much less at the helm of one. In the 129 years since it all began, never before has a fair-haired, blue-eyed lamb as young as Long ventured into the America's Cup arena, a sacrificial site customarily reserved for the slaughter of sun-wrinkled veterans. Considering his modest credentials, Long's chances seem slight enough. When his two opponents, Turner and Conner, are taken into account, his prospects look very dim. Actually, for a variety of disconnected reasons, Long has quite a good shot at it.
June 29, 1980
One asset surely working for him is his own well-contained optimism. After solving personal problems that had been unsettling him off and on, Long took up the America's Cup quest last spring, realizing that to knock off a Goliath or two requires not only the faith of David but also lots of practice with the right-sized pebbles in the right kind of sling. In that regard his unexpected debut in the big time parallels that of Turner, one of the Goliaths he now faces. After emerging from a morass of problems 15-odd years ago, Turner got aboard the right kind of stock boat (a Cal 40 called Vamp X), took dead aim on the ocean-racing establishment and wiped it out.
Thanks in part to the mixed games he has played as sportsman and breadwinner, Long has not lost his perspective. As he hustles money to keep his campaign going, he is sometimes appalled by the cost, but he is not awed by the importance of the America's Cup or the grandeur of the powerful, ponderous boats involved in it. A year ago, padding along with the rest of the Boston Marathon mob, Long completed the 26-mile, 385-yard distance in three hours, nine minutes. He realizes that if, in every race on her appointed course of 28 statute miles, he could keep the $300,000 Clipper moving at the speed he himself can run in $21 Adidas shoes, he would have Turner and Conner put away by mid-August.
Like both Turner and Conner, Long has done a lot of ocean racing, but unlike them, he has little taste for it. His father, Sumner (Huey) Long, a prosperous shipping broker, is well known for his series of ocean racers called Ondine. As Russ Long now recalls, he first raced aboard his father's second Ondine at the age of seven, on some overseas course in winds of gale force or worse. "It was up to 50 or 60 knots, I am told," Long says, "but I wouldn't know. I wasn't on deck much. I spent most of the race either trying to stay in my bunk or trying to get back in it. Every now and again a wave would grab the boat and throw it up. When it came back down, I would still be in the air. When a seven-year-old kid starts considering suicide as an alternative to his immediate problems, he knows he is in the wrong sport.
"I did a lot of racing on Ondines when I was young," Long continues, "and hated it, mostly because of seasickness. My father and I used to have mammoth battles about my sailing with him. He'd say, 'Ah, you're getting older, you'll get over seasickness.' He'd say, 'We have this new pill. Try it.' I tried everything from Marezine to Bonine to Dramamine. Nothing worked. I even tried the astronaut's special space-sickness pills. They made me throw up."
Several years ago, after reconciling some personal difference with his father, Russ Long started racing again on the fourth Ondine, skippering her occasionally in his father's absence. In the St. Francis Yacht Club Perpetual Cup series sailed off San Francisco, he came in second, beating such impressive West Coast biggies as Kialoa, Merlin and Christine. He won line honors in the Astor Cup over Turner's Tenacious and the ultralight freak, Circus Maximus. Although both his personal problems and his stomach are more settled today, ocean racing is still not his bag. "Give me a fast boat and put me on a closed course and I am a very happy guy," he says. "Class boats are the cutting edge of the sport."
Long's maternal great grandfather was Richard Joshua Reynolds, the tobacco king. His great-great uncle was Richard Samuel Reynolds, founder of the metal concern that is well known in households for its Reynolds Wrap. With such a fiscal reservoir, Russ Long received a wellivied education. After primary years at St. Bernard's School in New York City, he prepped at St. George's in Middle-town, R.I., where he sailed competitively and captained the cross-country team. Like many another St. Georgian, he went on to Harvard, where he flunked out after one term, racking up the unusual academic score of two A's and two E's. Troubled by family differences, when he returned to New York, Long resolved to make his own way, taking any job in the classified ads that had even a fragrance of opportunity.
He made his first bucks—about $150 a week—delivering parcels on a commission basis on his own motorcycle. Long is the kind of hustler who, after so slight a start six years ago, might by now be well on his way to owning a transcontinental trucking business. Alas, it was not to be. After delivering parcels for about two weeks, while he was stopped in traffic on 46th Street, a taxi behind him suffered a stuck accelerator and plowed forward, slamming him into the car ahead. Long wasn't hurt, but his cycle was totaled.
He subsequently took a job as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman with the P.F. Collier Company, operating strictly on commission: $88 for each of the first 10 $600 sets he sold and $98 per set thereafter. Of the 14 prospective salesmen who started with him, after three weeks there were only two left: a onetime Persian rug merchant named Rasagi and a massive, 6'5" Harlemite whose name eludes him. Long recalls that the big man's other source of income derived from local chess clubs, where he would play a dozen games simultaneously against a dozen players, betting $30 or more on each.
Long tried only once to peddle his books to the crime-leery citizens of New York City, where he found less than one in a hundred doors would open for him. Customarily a Collier field manager would drive him and four other salesmen to the far suburbs of New York—upstate or in Connecticut or Jersey—and drop them off in assigned territories. In such communities the chance of getting in the door was about one in 25; once inside, the chance of completing a two-hour pitch with a sale was about one in eight. Summing it up: $88 to him for every 200 doorbells rung.
"We had many great lines to get in the door," Long recalls, "most of which verged on lying. Once inside, I'd try to get the family settled down on the couch, and by the end of the pitch I'd have the floor covered with pamphlets, brochures and free kids' encyclopedias. The family would be forced to stay on the couch to keep from stepping on everything. I'd box them in."
In most areas he needed a solicitor's license, and most such permits were valid only during daylight hours. Because it made little sense to make a pitch for a $600 item while the man of the house was still at work, much of Long's selling was done illicitly after dark. Ordinarily the field manager wouldn't even drop Long and the other salesmen off until 5 p.m. and not pick them up at appointed street corners until around 11. If a salesman wasn't at his pickup spot on time, it was presumed that he was either in the middle of a hot sales pitch or was in the hands of the fuzz. Long was arrested only once, in New Jersey, getting off with a $15 fine and a warning that, hereafter, he should get out of town by sundown.
After four months, Long was averaging four sales a week and was offered a field managership. But he had a Harvard girl friend who planned to spend the summer on Cape Cod. To be near her, he quit Collier and signed on as manager of a 30-room hotel on the Cape, stretching the truth to its elastic limits to get the job. When asked if he had previous hotel experience, Long said he had, at the Viking Hotel in Newport, R.I. (Truthfully, he had stayed at the Viking on several occasions.)
Having succeeded at breadwinning in a grab-bag assortment of jobs, Long decided to try Harvard again. He went through the next 3½ years without a hitch, making the dean's list every term except one. He competed on the sailing team, finishing up as co-captain. While still in school, he also messed around in the 470 dinghy class, crewing for Skip Whyte when Whyte won the North American championship in 1978. Three months after graduating from Harvard, while Long was competing in a 470 in Florida, his father, Huey, phoned him on behalf of Ted Turner.
In 1978 Turner had bought not only Courageous, the boat in which he had sailed to victory, but also her stablemate, Independence. He needed someone to skipper Independence in preparation for the 1980 quest. Would Russell Long consider the job? Except for one casual handshake, Long had met Turner just twice before. Nine years earlier Turner had sailed aboard Ondine in the Sydney-Hobart Race, dubbing Long, his 14-year-old watch mate, "Russell the Muscle." A year later Long competed against Turner in a Tempest class regatta. Long remembers that in every race, while he was still beating to the windward mark, Turner would already be around it, and in passing would shout out "Russell the Muscle!" in a voice loud enough to collapse spinnakers.
On being offered command of Independence, it first occurred to Long that Turner must be desperate to be reaching so far down in the sailing ranks for a sparring mate. Turner had indeed offered the job to two others: Ted Hood, her original skipper, and Tony Parker, a three-time runner-up in the Congressional Cup. But to think that Long as third choice was an act of desperation is to ignore a facet of Turner's genius. Turner is the world's most talented one-man impressment gang. He has an arcane, unrivaled knack for finding just the sort of man he wants, be it in a bar or on the dock or on the deck of a rival boat. (Turner signed aboard one of his best crewmen, Billy Adams, after they met by chance in the men's room of the bar from which Adams, the bartender, had wanted to evict Turner.)
For 24 hours Long pondered the unbelievable proposal of teaming with Turner and then accepted on three conditions: first, if Independence proved better than Courageous, Turner couldn't reclaim her; second, the two boats would be financed separately, and the syndicate that funded Independence would also have an option to buy her; and third, Long's father, Huey, would have nothing at all to do with his son's campaign.
It was agreed. Suddenly Russell Long, the lad who maintains that class boats are the cutting edge of the sport, had one of the classiest and costliest of class boats hanging around his neck like an albatross. Considering his affluent origins, funding the campaign might not have been a problem, but once again, Long went his own way. Neither his father nor mother has a dollar down. When the estimated budget of $900,000 for the campaign is finally met by contributions large and small, less than 10% will have been contributed by anyone directly or remotely related to him. The bulk of it is being hustled up by Long, his crew and the syndicate co-chairmen, retired steel executive Dan Strohmeier and retired IBM vice-president Bob Hubner. Only about one in every 15 potential contributors has kicked in, but most came up with considerably more than the $88 Long made per pitch when he was ringing doorbells for P.F. Collier.
Long spent last summer raising money, sorting through crew applicants and getting the feel of a boat that is four times longer and 215 times heavier than the 470 dinghies to which he was accustomed. He received an invitation to compete, all expenses paid, in the first 12-meter world championship in England. Although such a venture would have helped his own training and fund-raising programs very much, when the America's Cup selection committee lightly suggested that it would not be in the best interests of the Cup defense, he declined. Turner and his Courageous crew didn't show up in Newport, but Gerry Driscoll, the California skipper who almost won the right to defend in 1974, did work out with Long for four days in the old wood boat Intrepid. However, in the main, Long and his rookies had to learn in loneliness. "With no sparring mate," he says, "we were really between a rock and a hard spot. We spent the summer whaling away at our own shadow."
Finally, for eight cold days in October, Turner came to Newport. Despite their long layoff, Turner and his Courageous crew won most of the pickup races, but one day, when the skippers switched boats, Long found he was doing better in Courageous against Turner than Turner had done against him. That convinced Long that, in time, he and his team might be sufficient, but Independence was not.
And so it came to pass that Independence was scrapped and a new boat called Clipper was born.
How does Clipper, the new girl on the block, stack up against the other 12-meters? Naturally, she is getting the notice any new girl gets, and also is getting a few raves not ordinarily bestowed on newcomers. Quite literally, she is the fairest of them all. Her trim bustle and the clean sweep of her buttock lines alone are enough to make any budding naval architect swoon. She is a bargain-basement beauty, a sentimental favorite, a hometown queen. For 50 years little Newport has watched time-honored skippers come from afar to battle off Brenton Reef in their big America's Cup craft. Although five hulls built by Nat Herreshoff at Bristol, up Narragansett Bay a ways, defended the Cup, Clipper will be the first Newport boat ever to take part. She was designed on one side of historic Thames Street and built on the other—and to stretch the point further, she is skippered by a kid named Long, who got a lot of his schoolboy learning on the edge of town.
At the time he decided to build a new boat, Long and his cronies had raised about $600,000, enough to campaign Independence. If he had been obliged to pay the going rate for an entirely new boat (about $700,000), he would have gone back into the red over his head. As it happened, thanks to the ingenuity of two old America's Cup hands, Andy MacGowan and Bob Connell, who are now super boss and operations boss of Newport Offshore Limited, where Clipper was built, Long went back in the red only up to his navel. In bidding for the job, MacGowan, Connell and their construction superintendent, John Merrifield, proposed scrapping Independence and reusing her spars, rigging, deck gear and keel, thereby saving Long more than $150,000.
To shape Clipper's hull plates, the builders bought a costly machine that is properly called an Eckold Bender, but is colloquially known as a "nibbler." (The machine tucks and bends metal into proper curves.) Nibblers are commonly used in the aircraft industry but never before in the construction of a 12-meter hull. Thanks to the nibbler, when Clipper was plated, she proved so fair that her designer, David Pedrick, seriously suggested that to save weight, she not be faired further with synthetic glop or even painted. Clipper was painted, but because of her intrinsically clean plating, her superficial skin is several hundred pounds lighter than that of other 12-meters. In brief, she is a girl with little padding; her curves are her own.
Pedrick worked seven years for the naval firm of Sparkman & Stephens, and while there was in large part responsible for the design of Courageous and Enterprise. He was also involved in the redesign of Intrepid, when she was altered to make her more like Courageous. His Clipper, also is, in his words, "in the Courageous theme." To get him to give specifics as to just how Clipper varies from the original theme, it is first necessary to throw him to the floor and stand him on his head. When it comes to specifics, in the proper tradition of 12-meter designers, Pedrick is a clam.
Through the '60s there was a trend toward longer waterlines and heavier displacement, trading off sail area to stay in compliance with the 12-meter rule. Courageous was the forerunner of a return to quicker boats that are more suitable for dueling upwind. Clipper is a continuation of that. "The racing has been getting closer and closer," Pedrick says, "until today a 12-meter is truly a tactical weapon. Anytime you're a little faster, your opponent will be trying to grind you down; anytime you're a little slower, you'll be trying to grind him down."
Before Long chose a name for his 12-meter, he considered several tie-in schemes that might persuade large companies to kick in a bundle. He made a presentation to the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company that his great grandfather had started, suggesting a cigarette brand name in exchange for a sizable contribution. He also went to the Reynolds Metals Company that his great-great uncle had founded; the tie-in between the fairest aluminum boat of all and an aluminum company seemed to him a natural. In both instances he struck out, though R.J. Reynolds did make a small contribution. Two weeks before the launching Long made a pitch to Pan American World Airways, proposing the name Clipper in exchange for a hefty donation. On its way to Dan Colussy, the president of Pan Am, for final approval, the proposal went astray.
With time running out, Long decided to name the boat Eagle, without making a pitch to the Eagle pencilmakers or the shirt manufacturer or the rubber-goods concern that uses the same brand name. Thirty-six hours before the launching, an artist, working in the secrecy of night, painted an eagle and the name Eagle on the transom of the boat. The next day somebody at Pan Am in New York caught up with the stray proposal. Was it too late? Colussy was headed for Hong Kong that very afternoon. There was much telephoning and rushing around, Long trying to get approval for such a commercial tie-in from the nabobs of the New York Yacht Club, the Pan Am ad agency trying to get a logo of the word Clipper to someone's girl friend, who was catching a train to Westerly, R.I. in 40 minutes—and so forth and so on. As a consequence, only 12 hours before launch time, the artist went to work again in the small hours of the night, sanding out Eagle and painting on Clipper. So it goes in the wonderful old Corinthian sport of yachting.
Both Conner and Turner revel in adversity and love to bad-mouth their own chances. Chirping boyishly, as he often does when he is trying to unload a passel of imperfect logic, Conner insists that in their upcoming duels, he, not Turner, is the underdog. "Turner is Muhammad Ali," he declares. "Turner is the champ. He has the experienced crew. He has the best boat. He has a lot more time in a 12-meter than anybody."
Turner has indeed sailed more miles in a 12-meter than anyone, but most of it was long ago, aboard his old, third-hand American Eagle after she was motorized, cabinized and otherwise corrupted for use as an ocean racer. In the three years since they successfully defended the Cup and stepped off Courageous, flush with victory and champagne and aquavit, Turner and his aged crew have worked out together a scant four weeks.
From mid-May of 1979 to mid-May of 1980, Conner's boats, Freedom and Enterprise, worked out together 147 days, pacing and racing, trying out gear and crew and sails. In that time, 140 sailors tried out for positions on the two boats and, in addition, able match-race helmsmen such as Malin Burnham, Ted Hood, Dennis Durgan and Dick Deaver came aboard, taking the helm of whichever boat Conner chose not to sail on a given day. If practice makes perfect, Conner, the self-appointed underdog, seems to have quite an edge. But it is an edge that could be easily worn away in the long summer. Turner has a slick pack. In tacks and jib changes and other such occasions where seconds count a lot, they steal distance slyly and end up with the boat lengths they need to win.
So what are Russ Long's chances in this battle of champs? Winch Grinder Dick Sadler, who at age 26 is the child of Turner's crew, puts it this way: "Long is not too far behind us right now. We can only get so much better, while he has many ways to improve."
One thing's for sure. The fuzz won't bust him for sailing after hours.