A second requirement governing the candidates is that the owner or head of syndicate be a member of the New York Yacht Club. This is more a matter of tradition than written rule, but so closely has the New York Yacht Club been associated with the America's Cup—beginning with the syndicate of its members which first won the trophy—that its right to act as arbiter of the cup's destiny was questioned only once. In 1901 Thomas W. Lawson, a wealthy Boston stock speculator, created a flurry by announcing he would pit his Independence against the two yachts being raced by members of the New York Yacht Club to decide a defender; he was not a member of the club and had no intention of becoming one, but he demanded a right to compete. Words passed, and the public took sides. Regardless, the Independence was not allowed to enter the trial races, but the pressure was taken off the New York organization when the three boats met in a series of events arranged by the Newport Yacht Racing Association—and the Independence finished a dismal last each time.
Harold Vanderbilt, long years ago, wrote in Enterprise: "Public interest in the America's Cup is such that when a yacht is chosen to defend it she loses her private character and becomes for the time being the property of the American people; she is their representative, their defender." And he added: "For that reason they are entitled to her history." Here, then, are the stories of the 1958 candidates for the cup defense:
First, there is the still unnamed boat of the Sears syndicate, called Swift in the earliest stages of her career until, according to one report, a superstitious member among her sponsors felt such an optimistic name might be the kiss of death. She was the first yacht to be announced, and is financed by a syndicate of New York Yacht Club members. Henry Sears, guiding spirit of the group, was commodore when the deed of gift was altered to permit a resumption of competition. His reason for building a 12 was based not only on a love of sailing and racing extending back through 11 boats named Actaea to a Swampscott dory in 1921, but on concern for the honor of the New York Yacht Club. As he says, "It would have looked awfully damned silly to have sponsored a challenge and then have no boat to defend." Immediately when the Royal Yacht Squadron signified its intention of sending across a vessel in quest of the hallowed trophy, Sears personally underwrote the preliminary expenses of designing and tank-testing a defender, and then began persuading others to help.
Second, there is Easterner, owned by Chandler Hovey of Boston, which is "a family affair"—family-financed, and to be sailed principally by members of the family, assisted by the designer, Ray Hunt, and his son. Chandler Hovey's desire to participate is easy to understand: not only did he receive an appeal to come to the rescue with a yacht when the New York group was having difficulty raising sufficient money to begin construction, but the 78-year-old down-East sailor has had the most big boat racing experience of any active yachtsman in America, including ownership of three J boats. Thrice before he has been a candidate to defend: with Yankee in 1930 and 1934, and Rainbow, purchased from Vanderbilt, in 1937. Perhaps what finally made up his mind this time was a desire to erase the disappointment of one of the most agonizing moments in sporting history, when in the deciding race of the final trials in 1934, Vanderbilt, after a seesaw battle of 30 miles, brought Rainbow across the line one second ahead of Yankee—so close that the crews of neither boat nor the spectator fleet knew who had won until they were told by the committee.
Third, there is Weatherly, building for Henry D. Mercer of Rumson, N.J. and two business associates, Cornelius Walsh and Arnold Frese. Although Mercer has long been associated with shipping and power yachting, there was universal surprise when he commissioned Philip Rhodes to design a candidate for defense, as he had never been active in the sailing side of yachting. It turned out to be a gesture in the grand tradition: as a younger couple Henry and Catherine Mercer had traveled across the Atlantic by steamer with Sir Thomas Lipton on the way to one of his many challenges. They had become firm friends, and Mercer developed a great admiration for the sportsmanship of the Irish baronet. In his mind there formed the determination that perhaps he, too, would "have a go at The Ould Mug," if the occasion arose. So when he heard the New York Yacht Club syndicate was having trouble raising sufficient money to proceed, he decided to make sure America would have at least one new boat to meet the British invasion.
Fourth, there is Vim, with an impressive record, including a campaign on the Solent under Vanderbilt in 1939 when she completely outclassed the best the British then had to offer. Through the war and for several years afterwards she sat forlornly on a cradle in a City Island shipyard, until bought in 1951 for the traditional song—comparatively speaking—by John Matthews of Oyster Bay, N.Y., owner of other large sailing craft, who "liked the idea of having a fast sporty boat for racing." He added a small engine and made minor changes in the accommodations below, and with his sons and friends sailed her happily and successfully for the intervening years under the Cruising Club of America Rule. Suddenly, there was a change in the deed of gift of the America's Cup, and he found he had a possible defender. He was pleased and also somewhat appalled, but too much in love with Vim not to undertake the task of campaigning her: "In justice to the boat we have to go ahead, and there will be no halfway measures in our preparations."
Behind each vessel now being constructed is another story, the selection of a designer. "I felt Olin Stephens was the logical man," said Henry Sears. "He not only has had a great deal of experience in the International Rule, producing such boats as the 6-meter Goose and the 12-meter Vim, but through his work on Ranger he has been subjected to cup pressures." Chandler Hovey turned to Ray Hunt, partly as a fellow New Englander, partly because of his success with a multitude of brilliant designs. "Ray came in to see me at my office a couple of times last year," recalled Mr. Hovey, "and talked to me about building a 12. I wasn't too interested. Then one day Harry Morgan called me from New York and said there was a possibility of the club syndicate falling apart; the challenge had been formally accepted and there was a chance no new boat would materialize on our side. I told him I would think it over. By pure coincidence, a half hour later Ray walked in and unrolled some preliminary plans. I told him to go ahead, and informed Harry Morgan next day we would have a boat." In New Jersey, Henry Mercer, also hearing of the difficulties of the original syndicate, called Philip Rhodes, who has designed winning yachts to virtually every other rule but the International, and asked for a two-week option on his services. Before the time expired, Mercer and his associates met with Rhodes and commissioned him to design a boat—and, what is rare in yachting annals, not only to design it but to choose a builder, skipper and crew.
If, at the present writing, any criticism can be leveled against the American effort to produce a worthy defender, it is in the lateness of the launching of the new boats. It has always been considered desirable to begin practice sails and tune-ups in late April or early May. Before the first new 12 takes the water on this side of the Atlantic, the British challenger Sceptre will have had many weeks of intensive workouts. Only Vim will be matching her. Yet the delay is probably the fault of no one except the tax collector: it is simply difficult these days for even wealthy men to persuade themselves to put up the large sums of cash needed.
While at this writing every slot in every crew has not been filled, the general outline of the key personnel aboard each candidate has become clear. The Sears boat will be sailed by a formidable team, including several members of the syndicate which financed her. Briggs Cunningham, who will be starting helmsman and in over-all charge as skipper, has recently been better known for his sports car activities, but it should not be forgotten that he was a master in 6-meters in the 1930s, and was successful in 12s as well. Aboard as an alternate helmsman and navigator will be Henry Sears. Another alternate helmsman and chief adviser on tactics will be Olin Stephens, the designer, who performed similar duties in the 1937 races as a part of the afterguard of Ranger. The other member of the famous brother team, Rod Stephens, will have his same job as on the last defense, supervising the setting and trimming of headsails. Another member of the regular crew will be William T. Moore, president of the Moore-McCormack steamship lines and owner-skipper of the ocean racer Argyll, winner of the Bermuda Race in 1950.
Nothing shows better the trend towards Corinthianism in yachting than the complete roster of the Sears boat. In the old days there was an amateur afterguard and a paid fore-deck gang. The latter did all the heavy work of sail setting and trimming. In fact, a yachtsman of the '80s would probably no more have thought of going forward of the mast than he would of going to the galley and offering to help peel potatoes.