Ordinarily, at this time of year reporter Duncan Brantley would be devoting all of his time to SI's college football coverage. This, however, is not an ordinary year. Down in the southern hemisphere, where summer is just around the corner, the America's Cup has just gotten under way off Fremantle, Australia. Since Brantley is also SI's resident sailing expert, he will be doing double duty for the next few months. This week he checked the facts in the America's Cup story on page 36 and the COLLEGE FOOTBALL column on page 64, and he wrote the Focus on page 104, which is about the Argos satellite tracking system currently monitoring the whereabouts of the singlehanded sailors competing in the BOC Challenge, an around-the-world race.
It was the America's Cup that brought SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and Brantley together. In the summer of 1983, when the Cup was sailed off Newport, Brantley, an avid sailor from Rutherfordton, N.C., was living in Old Lyme, Conn., about 50 miles away. He wrote a letter to SI, listing his credentials—B.A. in journalism from Chapel Hill, Radcliffe summer publishing course, 15 months as assistant editor on a boating magazine, a lifetime of sailing, etc.—and offering his services.
Senior writer Sarah Ballard was already in residence in Newport. "I was new to the sport," says Ballard, "and it wasn't long before I knew I was in over my head. There was nobody on the staff then who could bail me out, so I sent an SOS for Duncan."
Brantley answered the distress call and spent the summer driving twice a week from Old Lyme to Newport to give Ballard dry-land sailing lessons. "He'd draw boat shapes to illustrate match racing strategy and translate the perversely obscure sailing jargon I was hearing all the time," says Ballard.
The America's Cup of 1983 turned into a bigger story than anyone could have predicted. Australia II's winged keel, the controversy over its legality and, finally, Australia II's come-from-behind victory over Liberty made for a tumultuous summer, and Brantley was in the thick of the action.
When SI wanted to publish a drawing of the still-secret keel, Brantley was asked to survey all the yacht designers he could find for their expert guesses on the shape of the keel. He did that, but on his own he also paid a visit to the Canadian compound on the Newport waterfront. A few weeks earlier a Canadian diver had been arrested while trying to photograph the Aussie keel from underwater. A second diver got away, and the rumor persisted that one roll of film had escaped discovery. Brantley located the first diver, learned he now had the pictures and persuaded him to give SI a look. From the photos, which were too murky for reproduction, Brantley made several sketches, which he then turned over to artist Don Moss, with the result that two weeks later SI readers were given a preview of the keel, a month before it was actually unveiled.
Later this fall, as the football season winds down, the America's Cup trials will be heating up, and Brantley will be off to Australia. Once again, he will be where the action is.