Last week the lid popped off the America's Cup situation in the U.S. and revealed that even though the big race isn't until September the designers of the 12-meter Cup boats were already racing each other wide open. The lid lifted when SPORTS ILLUSTRATED was permitted to photograph the 4�-foot test models of the new U.S. yachts (shown opposite) for the first time. Until now their exact lines had been the secret of the testing tank laboratory. There the designers pitted them against imaginary opponents for months before they made the hard decision on the final shape and started running up baskets of blueprints for the builders.
Here, for the first time, yachtsmen have a chance to compare the lovely lines that will be launched, full-scale, to compete in this summer's trials. One of them will have the honor of defending the country's most prized international sports trophy against Sceptre, the British challenger.
Even a quick look at the five sleek hulls will tell an out-and-out landlubber he is in the presence of speed, just as surely as if he were looking at a Jupiter C missile on a Cape Canaveral launching pad. Almost 100% of today's big sailing yachts are designed to cruise across an ocean if the owner wants to. The 12-meter is not. Her long, graceful overhangs fore and aft are wasted room in terms of stowing gear, but they increase her speed tremendously when she heels over in a wind. She is a development of an international racing rule which in the hands of designers produces the fastest yacht of its size afloat.
It is partly to encourage sailing in the 12-meter class that America's Cup racing has been revived. The effect has been fine. The usually genial and leisured world of yachting has been thrown into a hurly-burly of excitement, plans, negotiations and discreet espionage at the prospect of the first Cup races in 21 years. Amid all the hoopla, however, a few pretty solid facts have emerged. The first of these is that any new boat defending the America's Cup is going to have to get by the 19-year-old but still sharp Vim (top, preceding page) now owned and sailed by John Matthews of New York. Built for Harold Vanderbilt in the spring of 1939, Vim took 19 firsts, four seconds in 27 races that summer against the best English 12-meter boats of the time, proving herself the best 12-meter in history, a title she has held unchallenged until this year.
The New York firm of Sparkman & Stephens, Inc. which designed Vim, has also been picked as the firm most likely to design the boat that beats her. Sparkman & Stephens' Swijt, being built for the New York Yacht Club syndicate headed by Henry Sears, sticks pretty close to Vim's successful lines. According to Rod Stephens, "We changed things a few inches here and a few inches there, and that's about all I'd want to say. Individually, the changes are small, collectively—well, we'll see."
A glance at the preceding page will show that the third boat from the top, as yet unnamed, designed by Phil Rhodes for the Henry Mercer syndicate of New Jersey, seems a bit deeper and fuller forward. Her overall length of 69 feet, however, is within a few inches of Swijt's and Vim's and her lines comparable. Not so the lines of Easterner (next, below). Sticking his neck out is regulation procedure for Ray Hunt, her designer, and Easterner, built for the Chandler Hovey syndicate of Boston, is a full four feet shorter than the others, with a unique, sharp-cornered keel and lines generally more unconventional in character, as becomes a good New Englander. Although a shorter hull has a lower theoretical top speed, under the formula which controls the building of the 12-meters, it has the option of carrying more sail than a longer yacht.
Sceptre, like the other new boats, is an unknown. But it is known that the British, tired of losing, consecutively, the 16 America's Cup races since 1851, and tired of being trounced by the likes of Vim, evaluated possible models for Sceptre in testing tanks patterned after those of the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. The Stevens tanks helped produce Vim as well as the last (and fastest) America's Cup defender, Harold Vanderbilt's Ranger.
Hunt, Rhodes and Stephens spent a good deal of their time at Stevens last year. The tanks at Stevens cannot design a yacht, but they can spot a lemon. They can tell a designer if a certain shape will be slow or fast under given conditions. It is the possibility of improving a promising design that keeps the designer at the testing tanks as long as he (and his client) can afford it.
Besides trying to read the prophetic ripples at Stevens this year, the American designers have been doing a lot of reading supplied by the U.S. Weather Bureau concerning the likely conditions off Newport, R.I., where the race will be held. September winds are tricky. "Anything from a hurricane to a flat calm," muttered one of the designers. Thus, no architect would dare design a Cup boat which could capitalize on heavy or light wind alone. By the time the trials start, each syndicate will have up to $300,000 invested in their attempt, so incentive to gamble all-out on one kind of wind is at a minimum. But when the one British and the one American boat meet off Newport, it is a fair bet that one will be a bit faster in a strong wind, the other in a light wind. Given equal skill in the crews, it may be that the wind will pick the winner.