September 07, 1980

Bob Bavier's America's Cup Fever (Yachting Books/Ziff-Davis, $14.95) is essential reading for anyone who follows competition for the Ould Mug closely. All sailors should find it informative and entertaining, and even landlubbers who but dimly comprehend the triennial jousting off Newport might discover that Bavier's tale of boats and people is sufficiently gripping to compensate for the technical sailing allusions.

I am well aware that many persons go glassy-eyed when asked to cope with nautical terms more complex than "port" and "starboard." Indeed, one of the most astute editors on earth, gazing one day at a photograph of Cup boats in action, asked me, "Which way are they going?" Nevertheless, the non-sailor who believes he could puzzle out such phrases as "on the weather beam" or "luffing above close-hauled" might well take a flyer on the Bavier book for the principal reason anyone would want it: Cup Fever, subtitled "An Inside Look at 50 Years of America's Cup Competition," is a rare volume in that it contains candid comment by a true insider on some of the most controversial Cup events of recent years. The New York Yacht Club, whose trophy it is, has the reputation of being stiff-necked and silent. But now comes Bavier, the skipper of Constellation in the 1964 Cup defense and of Courageous in 1974 until he was replaced by Ted Hood, a member of the NYYC's Cup Selection Committee now and in 1977—i.e., a man of the inner circle—writing, for example, of Freedom's skipper, Dennis Conner, in this unstarchy way: "Match racing, he feels, is a dog-eat-dog affair and he sees nothing wrong in being the meanest dog."

Bavier says that the Australians simply didn't know the rules when Gretel II fouled Intrepid at the start of a 1970 race—resulting in perhaps the most heated uproar in Cup history. He now reveals that Gretel's skipper, Jim Hardy, in a conversation with Bavier before the issue was decided, said he believed the maneuver that caused the foul was perfectly legitimate. That the foul deprived the Aussies of a victory they then proceeded to win on the racecourse was a devastating blow, the more so because, Bavier asserts, Gretel was the faster boat of the two and in the end was defeated only because Bill Ficker, the skipper of Intrepid, sailed a supremely intelligent series. Bavier writes of this and other episodes with commendable clarity and I-was-there insight.