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A long-familiar landmark is gone from the heart of London these days. In place of the marble lions that once crouched in front of the Royal Thames Yacht Club's Victorian facade at 60 Knightsbridge Street is a modern glass structure, not unlike office buildings rising everywhere. Yet even the most casual passer-by turns to have a second look. For, guarding the chrome-bound entrance doors is a pair of muzzle-loading cannons mounted on the wheeled carriages of Nelson's day, while the gaff of a wooden mast on the sidewalk flies the burgee of the Royal Thames.
Rising costs forcing uncomfortably higher dues caused the club to move into three upper floors in the new building, and while it is still too early to predict whether this willingness to jettison tradition will have any bearing on the 19th challenge for the America's Cup, there are signs of interesting developments.
First and foremost is the certainty that the Royal Thames will set two new boats competing against each other for the right to meet a defender off Newport next September. There has never been any doubt that the down-to-the-wire competition among American candidates was the most vital single element in sharpening boats and crews for the cup matches. As Group Captain Ernest F. Haylock, one of the deans of British sailing, puts it: 'Perhaps Sceptre wasn't all that bad in '58. Part of our trouble was lack of appreciation of what we were up against. I don't think your side realized what could be done in improving 12s until John Matthews" determined effort with Vim and Bus Mosbacher's helmsmanship aboard Columbia forced the latter to go all out."
Now the Royal Thames Yacht Club will be conducting its own trials, paralleling those of the New York Yacht Club, and it will be the winner that will become the challenger. The first of the new boats, Sovereign, owned by Anthony Boyden, was launched in July of last summer, and sailed some 25 informal races against Sceptre and prewar boats. In her first exercises on short courses around the Solent, her failure to distinguish herself gave rise to ugly comments. A succession of skippers had a go at the helm, and her first suit of sails, cut by a dinghy specialist with no experience in the larger classes, "looked like last Monday's wash," according to one qualified observer. Yet Hugh Somerville, editor of The Yachtsman, who crewed regularly on the former challenger, felt the new candidate's failure lay in handling rather than potential: "Whenever Sovereign got her wind clear she went faster than Sceptre. She is a much faster boat—there isn't any doubt about it."
At present the after guard of Sovereign is expected to consist of Erik Maxwell, Peter Scott and Bruce Banks, with Anthony Boyden directing activities from a power cruiser. Maxwell, last summer's helmsman and present owner of Sceptre, has had limited competitive experience in 12s but is respected as a driver. He impressed many observers with his starts and tactics in the tests of last year. Peter Scott is not only an experienced campaigner and president of the august International Yacht Racing Union, but is also one of the finest living painters of waterfowl. His assignment probably will be navigation, but a deskbound journalist who has never seen the fogs of Narragansett Bay has suggested quite seriously that Scott's experience watching the flight of birds would undoubtedly be useful in ascertaining position. Bruce Banks is a dinghy champion and Prince of Wales Cup winner who is making his initial transition to bigger boats.
Yet the key to the performance of Sovereign may well lie out of the cockpit, in the personality and management of her owner, Anthony Boyden. There is some feeling that he may not give his challenger what she needs in the way of the best available sails and equipment. "Tony runs the boat like a businessman," was one comment. "He mentally puts everything out to tender. I sympathize, but after you get into this thing is no time for half measures." Last summer's opportunity for practice and improvement, say many critics, was in many ways wasted. Having another 12 competing for the right to challenge may provide exactly the proper stimulus.
The second boat is named Kurrewa V, which in Australian aboriginal means "fast-swimming fish." She is scheduled to be launched on Friday the 13th of March—another flouting of tradition—and probably will be on time since, according to club-bar scuttlebutt, her builders have agreed to a no-payment clause if she is not in the water by April. The surprising thing about Kurrewa to yachtsmen on both sides of the Atlantic was that David Boyd, designer of the unsuccessful Sceptre and the new Sovereign, was also chosen to design the second challenger. Asked why, those in the know could give only one answer: time. When it was decided to undertake construction of Kurrewa last fall, David Boyd was the only naval architect with plans ready to go. Suffering keenly from the debacle of Newport in '58, Boyd has thought and worked unceasingly ever since on 12-meter data. He has tank-tested extensively and mulled over every aspect of design. Even after the launching of Sovereign he continued his studies.
There seems to be no objection by English yachtsmen to the arrangement. "After all, old Charlie Nicholson turned out a dog in Shamrock V, his first try at a J boat," commented Hugh Somerville, "but then he came back with Endeavour I, which everyone agrees should have lifted the cup." And Teddy Haylock added to his remarks about the value of competitive trials by observing: "Suppose you had shifted the sails and crew of Columbia to Sceptre for a couple of races. Do you think there would have been so much difference between the two? Relative speed in match races is a combination of many factors, and here we are only considering hulls."
It is expected that Kurrewa V will differ very little from her older sister, except perhaps in keel form and weight. Sovereign employs the wedge shape that Olin Stephens used in Columbia after extensive tank tests for the '62 trials. Some critics at Newport felt it had slowed the champion from her '58 performance, but here again one comes up against the delicate balance of factors, including the human, when dealing with 12s. In any case, Kurrewa V goes back to a more conventional form, and through saving of weight elsewhere is rumored to have 1,500 pounds more lead down deep, a big potential plus.
The second most surprising thing about the new boat is her financing by a pair of brothers from Australia. From a baronial mansion hung with masterpieces of art, Frank and John Livingston survey a domain of grazing and farm country in Queensland almost as limitless as the surrounding sea, but they are far from land-bound. As joint owners of the previous Kurrewas, they possess one of the most impressive records in down-under ocean racing, for a time holding both the trans-Tasman and Sydney-Hobart course records. One year they made a 20,000-mile round trip to California to sail the Honolulu Race, with a sister along as cook. In '58, watching Columbia and Sceptre, they succumbed to the America's Cup virus, a disease that assumes many strange forms.