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UNDERDOG SHOWS HER TEETH
Carleton Mitchell
October 01, 1962
At the precise moment shown at left, the Australian sloop "Gretel" swept past the U.S.'s "Weatherly" on the last leg of the second race to become the first America's Cup challenger in 28 years to win a single event in the best-of-seven series. The Aussies' victory evened the score at one all; on the following pages Carleton Mitchell analyzes the factors that gave new suspense to the century-old cup competition.
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October 01, 1962

Underdog Shows Her Teeth

At the precise moment shown at left, the Australian sloop "Gretel" swept past the U.S.'s "Weatherly" on the last leg of the second race to become the first America's Cup challenger in 28 years to win a single event in the best-of-seven series. The Aussies' victory evened the score at one all; on the following pages Carleton Mitchell analyzes the factors that gave new suspense to the century-old cup competition.

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On the first weather leg of the twice-around windward-leeward course the Australians tried to make a race of it by initiating another tacking duel but failed to gain as their superior power in winching home headsails was not vital in the light breeze. Also Sturrock seemed to kill his boat by spinning her through each tack, while Bus Mosbacher carried way in a series of lazy arcs. Nevertheless, Gretel was only a minute astern at the first turn; but then she fell into a windless hole. Changing spinnakers three times was of no avail, and she trailed at the end of the first round by a horrendous 23 minutes in time and two miles in distance after 12 had been sailed. This admittedly was not yacht racing at its best. However, the Australians finally found a new slant of breeze to close the gap to 8 minutes 40 seconds at the finish, a bad defeat and no indication of the relative merits of the two vessels.

After another postponement on a day when winds blew reasonably fresh, Saturday dawned clear and calm. Faint slants of wind began to stir as the fleet got under way. The staggering assortment of 2,300 craft estimated on opening day had diminished somewhat, but there were still plenty of excursion steamers on hand, top-heavy with spectators like floating bleachers, as well as Navy destroyers and virtually every other kind of floating contrivance on the East Coast.

The start was delayed waiting for wind. After almost an hour signals were hoisted in a faint eight-knot southerly for a triangular course, and Sturrock once more sought the initiative. This time Bus more than met him halfway and led across the line. Although conditions at the start were those in which Weatherly had walked away from the competition all summer, Gretel hung on for more than half the weather leg, now gaining slightly, now losing; tacking, feinting, tacking again for a total of 24 hitches, Sturrock trying to wriggle clear of his rival's wind shadow, never more than a few seconds behind. Then about midway along the leg the wind freshened to some 12 knots, and Gretel's genoa seemed to bag away from the spreaders aloft. Weatherly gained rapidly to lead at the turn by one minute 26 seconds, but the race was far from over. Gretel set her spinnaker faster and gained steadily through the eight-mile leg, cutting the margin to 48 seconds at the mark.

Gretel jibed without collapsing her spinnaker; Weatherly jibed, but her chute folded. Again the challenger gained slightly through superior sail handling, and then again was faster on the reach. A heading wind shift about three miles from the finish caused Weatherly to drop her spinnaker, and for a while Gretel closed the gap with a rush. It seemed she would break through to leeward, but then Sturrock felt the header, too, and followed Weatherly in replacing his spinnaker with reaching jib. To most observers it seemed a fatal error.

The challenger stonned dead in her tracks and even began to lose ground. Again the Aussies set a spinnaker. There were none of Tuesday's seas to ride; nevertheless, Gretel's bow inexorably crept toward Weatherly's stern. But distance and the angle to the finish line were running thin for Gretel, and when Weatherly countered by setting her own spinnaker there was no hope for the challenger. Weatherly's winning margin of 26 seconds was the smallest in 92 years of competition; the next closest finish was in 1893 when Vigilant beat Valkyrie II by 40 seconds.

As the series moved to a close, predictions made earlier about the two boats seem to have been borne out, and there is every indication they will hold through the race or races still to be sailed. Although Gretel is a good boat, Weatherly—with Bus Mosbacher at the helm—is a better one, at least in her ability to get across the finish line first. The defender is at her best in light airs, while the speed curves of the two boats cross as the wind freshens. The only ingredient lacking in the magnificent Australian effort is the competition enjoyed by Americans over the past four years, culminatine in the recent elimination trials.

"It will take us four years to really learn about 12s," Alan Payne commented before the cup matches began, "and we've only had two and a half." From the American point of view, perhaps it is just as well.

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