SI Vault
Carleton Mitchell
July 30, 1962
There were some spectacular triumphs—and snafus—in the first round of tests to pick a defender for the America's Cup, but the subtle moves that add up to a selection were noticed only by nine solemn men in blue
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July 30, 1962

Time Of Trial For Four Tall Sloops

There were some spectacular triumphs—and snafus—in the first round of tests to pick a defender for the America's Cup, but the subtle moves that add up to a selection were noticed only by nine solemn men in blue

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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 day's racing.

The seagoing 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.

Yet their 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 September 15.

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?"

Overall, the 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 as down.

The two 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.

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