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After it was all over and Sceptre had been hauled away like a dead bull from a corrida, Harry Sears best summed up the late-September events off Newport as "a horrible anticlimax to a great yachting season."
Four months have passed, other events have appeared and disappeared from the headlines, but the many questions raised by the one-sided contest for the historic America's Cup still linger. What could have happened that Britain could not produce a better representative? Why, after the four American boats raced so evenly, would Sceptre be so far behind in potential speed? And, above all, after this overwhelming defeat and disappointment, what will happen to the 12-meter class in particular and the America's Cup in general?
As to the future of the cup, it seems assured that a challenge will be forthcoming. Sooner than anyone had dared to hope, many indications have reached this country from London in recent days that prospects of a challenge are very much in the wind. As will be detailed later, things are stirring on both sides of the Atlantic.
But before attempting to evaluate the future it is well to look into the immediate past, without rancor and without belittling the high sportsmanship or sincerity of the British effort. Sceptre was a bad boat; but that does not mean that American design is invincible. Smaller British and Scandinavian meter boats have won their share of international trophies over the past years. David Boyd himself has turned out winning sixes, and other Empire designers have produced excellent vessels of all types, including ocean racers.
The question is: What happened in the design of Sceptre? And that question can now be answered in some detail.
From the first, reports coming out of England indicated an attention to detail, a meticulous striving for perfection which' seemed to' make the 17th challenge the most serious on record. Here was to be no casual pink-tea approach, but a businesslike effort, with affairs in the hands of real sailors and victory the unswerving goal. I confess sharing this conviction even after sailing aboard Sceptre on the Solent in May.
Yet apparently much of this was mere lip service to an ideal or, perhaps worse, complete lack of comprehension of what thorough preparation involved. It now appears the basic damage had been done and the British effort doomed on July 13, 1957, when the committee in charge of tank tests recommended to the Royal Yacht Squadron syndicate the B hull of David Boyd, after towing the models of eight yachts by four designers against each other and against the prewar Flica II. In theory, this impersonal method of selection seemed the best alternative to building several full-scale vessels, and the only criticism heard in the early stages was that the tank had been used purely to establish an order of merit and not later to perhaps refine and improve the chosen hull.
But after the debacle at Newport, I was informed on good authority that the nine models went through a total of only 41 hours of testing—500 runs of five minutes each—in the tanks at Saunders-Roe on the Isle of Wight. Allan Murray, director of the Experimental Towing Tank at Stevens Institute in New Jersey, which tested the American designs, commented: "We would feel we could barely compare and evaluate two hulls in that time. It takes 18 to 20 hours to establish data on a single model, towing in an upright position and at three angles of heel—10�, 20� and 30�. In all, we were working with the designs of Olin Stephens, Phil Rhodes and Ray Hunt just about a year." Tank tests of Columbia began in April and were still continuing in November to establish such points as ballasting when construction of the vessel was already under way.
Next, it was reported the reason that the unsuccessful Flica II had been used as a yardstick was because the blueprints of Tomahawk, a design by the late Charles Nicholson, had been lost through wartime bombing. But Tomahawk herself, which had given Vim real competition on the Solent in '39, was sailing in the Mediterranean, having been sold to Italy a couple of years before a challenge in 12s was contemplated. She could have been bought back as a trial horse, or her lines taken off as a point of departure.
Also, it was frequently mentioned that economic circumstances dictated the construction of but a single challenger. This too was understandable and was sympathetically received. Yet, as a friend said in London, "there was plenty of money available to build more than one boat." It is more probable the real fault lay with the attitude of the Royal Yacht Squadron, which issued the challenge. The deed of gift states, "Any organized yacht club of a foreign country . . . shall always be entitled to the right of sailing a match for this cup," and from then on mentions only the rights and responsibilities of a club. Individuals do not count. Therefore, after the Royal Yacht Squadron had challenged, it was the sole arbiter of who should represent it in Newport. Naturally, only a member's yacht would be considered, and, unfortunately, membership is strictly limited by social considerations. Yachting skill—or interest—has little to do with admission. So, when the challenge became the responsibility of this sacred body, every other club and every British yachtsman not entitled to wear the White Ensign was automatically ruled out. Feeling "now it can be told," I was assured a year ago that had some other organization with a broader membership base handled the challenge there would have been two and perhaps three other boats built in England. While there is always the possibility of intent not crystallizing into reality, I believe, in this case, the rumor to be true.