For two weeks
this July, at about 10 o'clock each morning, a vessel flying the oversized
flags of the New York Yacht Club and its race committee dropped her mooring off
Newport and headed to sea, past the clipped green lawns, past Castle Hill, past
the striper fishermen on the rocks, to a rendezvous at Brenton Reef lightship.
Each day in her wake trailed a handsome fleet, yachts large and small, power
and sail, to await the hoisting of signals that would set the course for the
paraders were there to watch four tall, 12-meter yachts—Columbia, Weatherly,
Easterner and Nefertiti—compete for the honor of being named the 18th defender
of America's Cup. In pairs they raced while the floating grandstand followed,
and each night Newport's pubs and clubs filled with discussions by intense and
knowing fans, using terms like spinnaker jibe and inside berth at the mark.
knowledge and their interest were mild compared to that of a number of
blue-jacketed gentlemen on the decks of two inconspicuous vessels. They were
constantly peering through binoculars, glancing at stopwatches, conferring,
jotting notes. There was no slow tack, no buoy overstood, no helmsman's error
that was not duly observed and recorded against the day of judgment when the
defender will be chosen. For the point of the whole show was to permit
observation by these gentlemen, the selection committee, whose duty it is to
make certain that the American yacht with the best chance of defeating the
Australian challenger Gretel is the one that comes to the starting line
In its duties,
members of the nine-man committee are only slightly less solemn about the
defense of the cup than those leaders concerned with the defense of our
country, and they are considerably less talkative. Nobody really knows what
goes on in midships huddles during the races, or what is discussed in formal
sessions afterwards. Yet it is no secret that far more is considered than the
mathematical percentage of wins versus losses, as disclosed by a frequent
question among the more knowledgeable of the fleet spectators: "How do you
think so and so looked to the committee?"
committee got an uncommonly clear look for such an early stage in the trials.
During the 13-day period, in which 22 races were held, the weather pattern was
good. There were no drifting matches when time limits expired, and only one
event was postponed by fog. Twice the wind piped to a sustained velocity of
some 18 knots, and one day was a real snorter, exceeding anything encountered
during the entire '58 season.
Before the trials
started the greatest question was Nefertiti (SI, June 11). There were those who
had viewed Sailmaker Ted Hood's first attempt at meter-boat design with
misgivings, speaking learnedly about frontal resistance and wetted surface; but
the most succinct doubt was reportedly expressed by a respected naval architect
when he viewed Nefertiti hauled out on the eve of festivities. He laughed.
But nobody even
snickered after the portly maiden celebrated her debut July 2 by defeating
Columbia, the 1958 cup champion, and went on next day to beat Easterner. By
these victories she established herself as fast in light to moderate air, when
many had believed she would be at her worst. She was less efficient to windward
than anticipated, definitely logy before the wind, but a demon reaching.
Meanwhile, on the
same two days, Henry Mercer's Weatherly was matched against the same two
adversaries in reverse order, and defeated them both. It was clear that changes
in the light blue sloop had been for the better. How much was due to a heavier
keel and how much to Bus Mosbacher at the helm would be impossible to say, but
Weatherly quickly demonstrated that this year she is able to go upwind as well
undefeated boats met for the first time July 4. Before her mooring was dropped
a Weatherly crew member muttered, "Today, it's man against the
beast"—Bus Mosbacher against the powerful hull and monster headsails of
Nefertiti. Mosbacher went ahead at the starting cannon and quickly tamed the
beast. Under his hand Weatherly simply sailed faster, her superiority greatest
on the second windward leg, when Nefertiti surprised and disappointed her
supporters by seeming to lay over and get nowhere, ending up five minutes 43
seconds astern. Still the Anderson group was not in the least dismayed.
"Wrong jib," said Don McNamara, Ted Hood's co-helmsman. "We're
learning. It'll be different next time."
Weatherly went on
to another victory the following day in her second match against Easterner,
making her score four straight. But then in the next three she came apart:
brand-new gear gave out, winches identical to those on the other boats failed,
and the crew fumbled at crucial moments.