StrappingMinnesotan John Barnitt, 25, the youngest crew member on Stars & Stripes,toiled much of the time belowdecks in what 12-meter men call the"sewer." Stooping his 6'4" frame to fit into the aluminum boat'scramped, hellishly hot belly, Barnitt, an ex-carpenter, stacked and unstackedand pulled to the deck sails weighing as much as 160 pounds. "I call itall-star jib wrestling," he joked as he relaxed in his Washington, D.C.,hotel room on Sunday, the day before the Stars & Stripes crew called at theWhite House. "It was about 100 degrees down there, all steamy, with waterdripping in on you. Sometimes it got pretty hairy."
Hairy, indeed.Barnitt is dyslexic, unable to look at words—and sail-identificationnumbers—without having them scramble before his eyes. In high school he studiedas little math as he could and had a girlfriend type his English papers."It isn't as much of a problem now," he said. "But I have to knoweach sail by what it looks like, how big it is, what its function is. I can'tjust go by the numbers."
Barnitt, theboat's mastman, worked out a color-coding system to help him locate each sail."You can look pretty ridiculous if you put up a spinnaker sideways," hesaid. "Knock on wood, I never put one up sideways and never wentoverboard."
While Barnittlabored down under Down Under, his mother, Judith, proudly watched the Cupraces on TV at her home in Minneapolis. Barnitt, the only crew member from alandlocked hometown, learned to sail on the nearby lakes. "Even with hisproblem, John has always been upbeat and very positive," said his mother, apsychologist who had buttons printed for her friends and family. The buttonsread: WHO IS THAT MAST MAN?
February 16, 1987
Now we know: He'sa sewer expert.