The summer of the 12s was historic; there will never be another quite like it. It was an America's Cup summer, the first in 21 years—for some of those who sailed in it the first living memory; for others, like Harold Vanderbilt, a glorious if unhoped for evocation of a past long thought forever buried. It was a summer, finally, that brought a new type of America's Cup contender: the slim, graceful, thoroughbred 12-meter yachts, successors to the majestic, unforgettable Js.
Carleton Mitchell, in a book devoted in its entirety to the 17th defense of the America's Cup last year (Summer of the Twelves, Scribners $10), has evoked that summer in all of its nostalgic intensity and glory. As a special contributor to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, he was involved in every moment of it, from Vim's first sail after the grand old lady had been streamlined back into her oldtime racing form (she had been built and raced before the war by Vanderbilt, remember?) and Sceptre's early trials (he was the first and only newsman allowed aboard, and he was an American at that) right down to the defense itself and its climactic moment when Columbia, exultant, crossed the line to salute her limping, broken-boomed rival with a toast in smuggled champagne. Here, in 164 glossy, handsome pages, profusely illustrated with magnificent photographs, is the day-by-day record; and for those who want the technical details, there are 59 pages more on everything from sail handling on the contenders to the amendment of the Deed of Gift which made the 17th defense possible and the report of the race committee which supervised it day by day.
If the cup races themselves seemed something of an anticlimax to those who had hoped for a better fight from the British, its recollection in these pages has none of that quality. For the real story of the cup lies in the summer-long preparation for those few days of supreme contest. Day by day, week by week the tension mounts, as the yachts are brought to finest tune, the crews to highest pitch of efficiency. These are the moments brought to life here: Vim's incredible heart-stopping performance in the trials; Briggs Cunningham's infectious grin, which gave to every sail aboard Columbia a special quality; Weatherly's gradual coming alive—too late—as the trials went on, Easterner's evolving from a "family boat" out more for fun, at first, into a serious dark-horse contender which never realized her true potential. The summer lives again, in some respects more vividly than in its actuality, for there are pictures here which, correlated as they could not be at the time, give the reader a view and understanding of a race such as only the most privileged and knowledgeable spectator could enjoy. And privileged the reader is, for this is sporting history at its best.