Waterwheel collecting is, of course, one of those curious loves that men have, an unusually curious one in John Livingston's case, since he and his brother Frank will probably realize a quarter-million-dollar profit because of it. John Livingston's quest for information about the 24-foot wheel on the mountain led him to a seasoned prospector, Kenneth Harris, who, as so often happens in his trade, had run out of money and was about to lose his option on a tract near the old Red Robin mine in the Australian Alps. The Livingston brothers put up the cash in exchange for equal shares. The government mining experts came up and inspected the initial diggings. Harris had apparently struck into a mighty quartz reef, assaying about two ounces of gold to the crushed ton. Unless the vein pinches out peculiarly or faults off in some very strange way, the total yield should be between $300,000 and $600,000. In Australia, all gold earnings are 100% tax-free.
To at least one U.S. yachtsman who saw them at Newport during the cup matches in 1958, the curious Livingstons resembled "Kipling's creatures at the edge of the forest." But their innocent air is deceptive. They know how to fill their stomachs and their pockets. They often bounce around like Silly Putty, but even while bouncing they are as wary as dingos and as canny as pack rats.
Since Frank and John Livingston have a knack for managing money and for acquiring more of it, they naturally can afford America's Cup racing. This does not mean that they will keep trying to buy the cup, spending more and more, like that cup-struck old landlubber, Lipton. The Livingstons are sailors for the same reason that they are stockmen, hole-in-the-ground explorers and waterwheel collectors—the sea is there before them and it would be a shame to waste it. The principal landholding they inherited from their father lies near the Victoria- South Australia state line, fronting on the southern ocean that reaches to Antarctica. As boys, Frank and John Livingston played around inside the reef in a single-sail, centerboard imitation of a boat. Subsequently, they did some round-the-buoy racing and graduated completely to ocean racing after World War II. Not counting their now uncountable miles of weekend sailing and little races of 200 miles or less, the Livingstons have sailed more than 25,000 miles in ocean competition and have cruised about 35,000 miles more getting to starting lines or returning home. In their ketch, Kurrewa III, and their 51-year-old cutter, Kurrewa IV, they have won line honors in the 630-mile Sydney-to-Hobart race four times in 10 tries.
Frank Livingston is a totally able seaman; John is 90% willing and able, only his stomach dissenting. "When I first sailed more than 40 years ago, I was sick, sick, sick," John Livingston now bellows irritably, recalling the misery of a major love. "Today I still get sick, sick, sick. Only relief I ever found was by trying to make myself even sicker. Few years ago I got myself so sick that I ruptured my gullet."
In 1939 the Livingstons had set out to sail to England when World War II suddenly cut loose. They paused long enough to do their bit in the army and reach the conclusion that the trouble with the war effort was too many chiefs, as it were, and not enough diggers and bushmen. When the world finally returned to the abnormality of peacetime, the Livingstons took up ocean racing in a big way, and in no time at all they were looking for competition away from home. The 2,225-mile Los Angeles-to- Honolulu race seemed to be the right sort of venture, and in 1949 they went for it. The prevailing winds being what they are, they had to sail 11,000 miles to reach the starting line, going 5,000 miles of it on one starboard tack before coming about 400 miles under the Aleutians. Except for near collision with water-soaked logs floating out of the Columbia River ("those logs," Frank Livingston insists, "could knock the duff out of any hull"), the trip was routine for the six seasoned members of the crew. But for the seventh—the Livingstons' sister Emily—it was a ball. Emily had never spent a night at sea and, since she was nearly 50 years old at the time, she felt it was then or never. Through the whole voyage she wore 30 silver bracelets on one arm, her theory being that when the others stopped hearing the jangle they would know she had been swept overboard. As she prepared meals for the men (the clock around), she sometimes found the food lockers at her feet and sometimes overhead. For 71 days and nights she was either cold and tired or wet and tired, and, being Australian, she enjoyed herself tremendously.
In the run to Honolulu, the Livingstons finished 16th out of 24 on elapsed time. It was an easy, drifty affair, not at all like the usual heavy-weather racing back home. Like most Australians, the Livingstons pile on sail in an ocean race until the rigging sometimes gives up in despair. Their finest victory, in 1948, came in the 1,300-mile Auckland-to-Sydney race, when they set a new time record despite eight hours spent wallowing bare-masted in a cyclone. As the nasty southern quadrant of the cyclone passed them, they were twice knocked down, the spreaders going into the water each time. (The anemometer on Lord Howe Island recorded 90-mile-an-hour winds, gusting to 110.) "On one roll-over," John Livingston reports, "the lockers flew open like bomb bay doors. Everything all over. We were at the pump, each man for 20 minutes, going with all we had, my word. Bits and pieces of this and that stopping up the pump. I reached down with my hand one time to clear it and found my false teeth were clogging it—so sick I must have thrown them out of my mouth without knowing it. Popped them right back in—safest place for your teeth in a blow." John's lingering regret is that brother Frank was lashed to the wheel during the worst hours and missed much of the excitement below.
Of the Livingstons' numerous yachting affiliations, the most important in this America's Cup year has no registered title and is best known (to the few who have even heard of it) as the Dead Secret Yacht Club. For the past five years, with about $60,000 of Livingston money and with both Livingstons actively participating, this club has been sailing little 7�-foot boats, each hull a one-ninth scale model of a 12-meter racer. The club has designed starting gates so that two hulls can be set off evenly in comparative hull tests. Rudders and sail trim are radio-controlled. Small radio-operated cameras, matchbox size, can be installed to photograph the sails and to photograph telltales and smoke puffs to indicate where the wind is pulling and where it is dragging. Much of the testing has been done on a small lake in the New Forest of England, where anybody can watch, but "somehow we have not attracted much attention," Frank Livingston says. "Most people write us off as a little mad and leave it at that."
The Livingstons came upon this unusual boating venture, as they have many like it, while wandering around giving their sociability and curiosity full play. According to the most recent interpretations of the America's Cup rules, no challenging country can use the American testing tank at Stevens Institute in New Jersey, and there is no tank elsewhere with personnel of equal experience. The Livingstons took to the radio-controlled boating because they saw in it perhaps a way to offset the disadvantage. It would be most dramatic to say that convincing revelations in hull design had already been found and incorporated in Kurrewa V. But in actual fact the Dead Secret Yacht Club is operating too slowly and deliberately for that. The only discovery that may come to light this year is in sail design, but since, by the rules, Kurrewa's sails must be of English cloth, any advantage in design will probably be offset by the advantage a U.S. boat has in using the superior American Dacron cloth made by Ted Hood (SI, Feb. 10). "The most we can say now is that we have hopes this year, some year," John Livingston insists, ""and I will further say that in any case Frank and John Livingston will have fun."
Like the dark hole in the ground at their sister's sheep station, this dabbling in America's Cup racing may lead the Livingston brothers nowhere. Possibly, like the old waterwheel on the mountain, it will only cast light upon itself. Or perhaps, like the same old water-wheel, it will lead to quite a prize. As John Livingston says, you never really know about anything until you give it a try.