On the morning of
the first Preliminary Trial the clipped lawns of Newport flowing down to the
harbor looked putting-green smooth through the early haze. A brisk breeze with
a touch of chill in it—the "smoky sou'wester" of the Narragansett Bay
area—whipped burgees aloft and rattled halyards against the masts of the
America's Cup candidates lying in Brenton Cove. On the deck of each, crews
worked feverishly at final chores.
This is it, we
thought on Weatherly, as undoubtedly others were thinking on the nearby boats:
this is it, after the weeks of design and construction and the days of planning
and practice—now the first gun is only hours away. Busy at our assignments, we
still stole glances across the water at our competitors. On the next morning
the crew of Columbia swarmed over deck and rigging, while her tender hovered
like a solicitous mother hen. Beyond, the varnished topsides of Easterner
caught the sun, and her crew was engaged in a similar ritual of devotion. Out
of sight but still in the mind's eye, we knew Vim was being readied. This was
it, all right—this was at last the real beginning.
We dropped the
mooring and fell in behind our tender, readying the mainsail for hoisting while
Weatherly was towed to open water. As we passed close ahead of Columbia, hands
were raised in greeting—but the ends of her spinnaker poles were shrouded with
canvas to hide the fittings from our prying eyes. Aboard were shipmates of
other passages and races, but now there was a curious feeling of dissociation.
In the full sense, we were on different teams. Friends were still friends but
not giving anything away. Not until after September anyway.
Arthur Knapp gave the order, and the mainsail began to climb. Winched aloft on
a drum hidden below deck, it looked like a nautical variation of the old Indian
rope trick. Slowly the heavy Dacron sail reached the top of the mast, and
Weatherly pivoted on her heel, a free creature.
came alive. There is no other phrase to describe the sensation of a boat
feeling the breeze. A vessel is not an inanimate fabrication of wood and metal
and cordage, but a personality, a vibrant being. And wind is the breath of her
life. A big "coffee grinder" winch rattled amidships, and the genoa jib
pulled from its stops with a roar. Weatherly seemed to sense the importance of
the moment and got her shoulder down to go to work in earnest. Somehow there is
no feeling of exhilaration to match a boat approaching maximum speed, bow wave
crashing rhythmically, bubbles hissing past to leeward, wake tumbling far
astern, the curve of the sails above, the thrust of the hull beneath. To a
sailor all else is pallid by comparison. We streaked for Brenton Reef Lightship
where, on rendezvous with the race committee, course signals would be
At the captains'
meeting the previous evening, the plan for the Preliminary Trials had been
announced, as simple and pat as ABC, plus D. In this case, A was Vim, B was
Columbia, C was Weatherly and D was Easterner. There would be six races, three
courses windward-leeward, three triangular. The boats would race in pairs. In
the first event A would sail against B, and C against D; next day A would
tackle C, while B took on D; and so on until all combinations had been matched,
twice around. A time limit of 1.5 minutes for each 1/10 of a mile of the
charted distance was established on the windward-leeward races, and 1.375
minutes per 1/10 of a mile on the triangular courses. Over a complete
windward-leeward course, a boat would have to average 4 knots. Triangular
events required a speed of 4.3636 knots, a curiously complicated figure arrived
at by some secret formula to bedevil navigators. Each day there would be two
separate divisions starting 15 minutes apart.
carefully laid plans of the committee began ganging agley at noon, when a
postponement was signaled so the line could be changed to insure a windward
start as the breeze shifted. While the boats jogged back and forth
interminably, a sense of anticlimax and frustration settled down like a pall,
never to be completely dissipated through the coming week of bad weather—fog
and calm—and breakdowns which plagued racers and committees alike.
This, then, is a
summary of the proceedings during the eight days of scheduled racing:
12: Wind, south-west 12-15 knots. Division I: 19-year-old Vim beat brand-new
Columbia. Division II: Weatherly was leading Easterner when the latter was
forced to withdraw because of a series of minor rigging troubles, earning a Did
light southerly in the morning, dying out in the afternoon. Division I:
Weatherly ahead of Vim by a good margin when the time limit expired. Division
II: Columbia leading Easterner when ditto. No race.