cleared the fortress on the point beyond Gosport, the first squall screamed
down. The gale of the previous day had lulled to a night of uneasy calm, with
scud and spits of rain, and now the wind was coming from southwest, fresh.
the mooring we had reefed the main. Sam Brooks had studied the lowering sky,
the slowly backing wind, and had given the order reluctantly. But his seaman's
sense had been correct. Combined with a genoa jib of moderate overlap, Sceptre
had all the sail she wanted. Laying over and knifing through the short steep
sea, she was not only in her element, but on the way toward her appointment
with destiny: a magnificent vessel driving through whatever lay ahead to seek a
previously unobtainable goal in distant waters, the America's Cup.
Huddled with the
others in the shelter of the cockpit as rain and spray blew almost horizontally
over the weather rail, feeling the power in the hull and watching the
efficiency of the crew, an earlier suspicion hardened into certainty—the 17th
challenge will be the most scientific, the most meticulously planned and the
most determinedly executed of any in the history of the struggle. The gentlemen
of the Royal Yacht Squadron are out for blood. "This is total war,"
said one of them recently, and he was only partially joking. On the highest
levels of sportsmanship and good will, it is to be an all-out effort—almost, it
may be accurately said, a national project. And given the conditions for which
Sceptre was designed and built, and for which her crew is training, it will be
a difficult invasion to turn back empty-handed.
Outside, on the
open water of the Solent, the seas were bigger. It is a peculiar body of water,
a long narrow passage formed by the Isle of Wight, open to the sweep of the
English Channel at both ends; it is a stretch wracked by swirling tides and
patterned by shoals, a real test of men and boats. On this Saturday morning in
mid-May 1958 it was exactly as I remembered it from August of '52, racing
Caribbee: somber green-gray water, somehow menacing under a leaden sky, with
the tops of waves driving off as spindrift in the hard cold wind. On such a day
at home most yachts would have stayed on their moorings, yet Sceptre was
sailing forth to practice starts against the venerable 12-meter Kaylena, her
earlier trial horse Evaine having been dismasted in similar conditions earlier
in the week.
"You can see
everything," Sam Brooks had said at luncheon the day before, and while it
is my intention to divulge nothing which I believe will hurt the challenger's
chances, there is little to hold back. Sceptre, generally speaking, is a
conventional 12-meter yacht, forced by the rigid requirements of the
International Rule into the same pattern as her competitors on the other side
of the Atlantic. Her principal characteristics have already been revealed by
pictures taken since she emerged from the secrecy of her builder's shed.
with Vim, Sceptre has, to my eye, a slightly shorter bow and somewhat longer
stern overhang, while an upward tilt to her transom gives an appearance of the
"tucked-up counter" beloved by Claude Worth and earlier English
yachtsmen. One point of difference is a very full section forward, resulting in
a rounded curve at the waterline, rather than a knife-sharp entrance. She has
an aluminum mast, built up instead of extruded in our fashion; it is
streamlined and supported by a single pair of spreaders and jumper struts.
feature which elicited most comment from American yachtsmen on first glimpse
was the deep cockpit, one of the reasons for secrecy during building, and
covered with canvas on launching. It occupies most of the midship area of the
boat, extending from slightly aft of the mast well toward the counter, leaving
only relatively narrow walkways of deck at either side for a bow-to-stern
passage. There was much speculation as to how this left space for the required
living accommodations below, as well as to how efficient it would be for
working ship. The rule says a 12-meter must be able to sleep a crew of six.
There must be a minimum of 5 feet 7 inches headroom, and toilet and cooking
facilities. Sceptre qualifies.
forward, there is an open forepeak, with a hatch with faired corners for
passing in and out head-sails; then a forecastle with three pipe berths for the
professional crew; then a cabin with a bunk to port, a seat, hanging lockers
and oilskin bin to starboard; and, finally, at the foot of the companion ladder
from the cockpit, an after cabin with two transom berths, lockers and the
single ornament aboard: a St. Christopher's medal affixed to the forward
bulkhead, blue enamel within a white life ring, crossed by silver sceptres,
with the names of all previous challengers inscribed on a silver outer rim.
Under the cockpit
itself there is sufficient crouching headroom for the galley and a toilet,
although unquestionably space is restricted. On the six-day passage from
Scotland to the Solent, after leaving the builder's yard, two additional pipe
berths were slung to accommodate a delivery crew of eight. As Joe Brooks,
Sceptre's navigator, said: "It wasn't exactly what you would call
luxurious, but we made out."
Aft, there is a
smaller cockpit, divided by a partition into two sections; the helmsman's
position, running virtually the full width of the ship; and still further aft,
a nook for the navigator. Sceptre has a very large diameter spokeless wheel
machined from a single piece of plastic, making plenty of room essential.
Peering over the helmsman's shoulder, the navigator rides in lonely glory,
surrounded by the mystic symbols of his craft—hand-bearing compasses, an
ingenious swiveling chart table, spinner log recorder and the rest.