Two months ago Australia's premier naval architect, Alan Payne, tried to put down yachtsmen's curiosity about the 12-meter sloop he was designing to challenge for the America's Cup: "I have not made any brilliant discoveries." Later he added, "To the layman, she will look very much like Columbia and Vim."
Then, early this month, the boat was unveiled at a launching party in Sydney Harbor. Her crusty owner, Sir Frank Packer (SI, Feb. 26), grabbed the wheel to take the boat, christened Gretel, for her first sail (right), and American experts grabbed every photograph they could get of the Aussie challenger to see if Payne had put anything over on them.
As the pictures on these pages show, there are a number of ways in which Gretel differs both from the present cup champion Columbia, and from Vim, once a potential defender of the cup but now under charter to Packer as a trial horse for Gretel. The big question, of course, is whether or not these differences will add up to a good boat or simply will produce another boring humiliation like that suffered by the English Sceptre in the 1958 races.
Last week one of Gretel's helmsmen, Archie Robertson, a Sydney auto salesman, predicted boldly that Gretel would be "faster than Vim in all conditions." That would be mighty fast, since in 1958, after an entire summer of trials, Vim lost to Columbia by only 12 seconds in the final race to determine who would defend the cup. But Payne himself still is being understandably conservative: "Whether it's any good we can't tell for a good, long time."
Unique deck gear—backstay winches in small after cockpit, two-part wire main-sheet connected to winch drum below decks, fixed cheek blocks for genoa sheets and main-sheets—surrounds Sir Frank Packer as he drives Gretel through her first sailing test.
Flat stern sections (right) and forward placement of rectangular rudder caught eye of U.S. Designer Olin Stephens, caused Cornelius Shields Sr., sailing coach for Columbia, to guess that Gretel "might possibly have an advantage on a reach or a run."
"Gretel's" rig (left) departs from norm, with one set of small spreaders, one large. Bow is very similar to Columbia's. In first tests, challenger's mainsail looked wrinkled, ineffective; new sail has just been ordered from Ratsey & Lapthorn in City Island, N.Y.