"Looks good," said a man on the dock to Briggs Cunningham, who was shortly to skipper Columbia's first run (see page 28). "They always look good alone," said Cunningham briskly.
Away from the crowd, a tall ramrod of a man watched until the tow-line had been thrown to Columbia, and then he stepped into a motor launch with his wife. "The best of luck to you all," called Mrs. Harold Vanderbilt as she sat down beside her husband. The engines gunned the launch out from the dock, and Harold Vanderbilt, 73, skipper of Enterprise ('30), Rainbow ('34), and Ranger ('37), turned to watch as the first New York Yacht Club cup boat to get under way without him in a generation moved easily off behind the tow boat.
Travelers from the Triassic
The duck-billed platypus is a curious, furry, semiaquatic mammal two feet in length when fully grown, with webbed feet and a broad and supple beak shaped much like a duck's. The female lays eggs, usually two, and suckles her young. The male has poisonous spurs on its hind feet, which it wields when fighting other platypuses. Fortunately, platypuses are placid. Duckbills are thought to have originated 190 million years ago in the last days of the Triassic Age, which makes them perhaps the oldest of surviving mammals. Until last weekend there were no platypuses, except mounted ones with glass eyes, outside of their native Australia. Then David Fleay, a tall, erect and apprehensive Australian naturalist under a straw hat, arrived in New York, accompanying Paul, Pamela and Patty, three baby platypuses which he had trapped and nourished. Pamela had a runny nose, Paul and Patty were tired, nervous and off their feed, David was in a bother; and no wonder—they had all just completed a formidable (for platypuses and a platypus minder) 10,000-mile, five-day journey from Fleay's Fauna Reserve in West Burleigh, Queensland to the Bronx Zoo.
"Platypuses," said Fleay by way of introduction, "are the most touchy, unpredictable, nervous creatures on the face of the earth." He stood in the basement of the zoo's bird house where the platypuses were hopefully recovering before going on public display. "They are very wary, which is, perhaps, why they have survived so long. They have no great array of teeth, you know."
Fleay selected a meal of live crawfish for the platypuses, which languished in their temporary platypusary, a covered box big enough to ship a Volkswagen in, containing an elaborate system of grass-filled burrows and a pool of muddy water. Fleay shone his flashlight on the water, dumped the crawfish in and watched with satisfaction as they sank.
"That's a good little feed," he announced. "Ought to be some meat in that lot. Ah, they're a bit jaded and weary now, you know. What sort of noise do they make? Oh, hardly nothing now, of course. When they do it's a sort of querulous growl, like a broody hen pulled off her eggs."
Fleay and the platypuses started their journey by automobile from West Burleigh to Brisbane on June 3. From Brisbane they took a plane to Sydney where a platypusary was awaiting them. At Sydney they were delayed for two perilous days; the platypuses munched away their precisely allocated food supply and the desperate Fleay had to send for replenishments. All told, Paul, Pamela and Patty ate 10,000 earthworms, 5,000 meal grubs and 500 crawfish en route. "There we were in Sydney," Fleay recalled with a degree of horror, "sitting in a busy airport with engines revving all about us—the noise!—not at all good for portable platypuses from the backlots; you know, the quiet river systems where all they hear is an occasional kookaburra or the roar of floodwaters."
Fleay finally took off for Fiji with the platypusary cushioned against vibration by a rubber mattress. "But," Fleay said, "the four great engines were bellowing and I couldn't insulate the poor little beggars against that. They went off their feed."
The plane made stops at Canton Island and Honolulu before arriving in Los Angeles on June 6. "The animals were getting progressively worse," Fleay said. "They were entirely off their feed. All in all, they were in a bad way."