SI Vault
Carleton Mitchell
May 18, 1964
The array of contestants being launched for this year's America's Cup racing may be the finest ever assembled. A famed yachtsman reports on the men and boats involved in the U.S. defense
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May 18, 1964

A Heaping Cupful Of Twelves

The array of contestants being launched for this year's America's Cup racing may be the finest ever assembled. A famed yachtsman reports on the men and boats involved in the U.S. defense

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This week, in the waters off Cowes, England's two new 12-meter yachts, Sovereign and Kurrewa V, are getting down to their first preliminary brushes as potential challengers for the America's Cup. On this side of the Atlantic four potential U.S. defenders are scheduled to slide down the ways to meet that challenge: Constellation will be launched on May 16, American Eagle on the 19th, with Columbia and Nefertiti close ahead or astern.

Getting financial backing for boats like these is not easy. As the organizer of one syndicate commented mournfully, "Every penny comes out of your drinking money. There is no tax break anywhere." Building, equipping and campaigning a 12-meter yacht for a summer costs approximately half a million dollars. Consequently, the list of contributing parents of Constellation and American Eagle reads like an amalgamation of the Wall Street Journal , the Social Register and Lloyd's Register of American Yachts. The Constellation syndicate consists of 32 members, American Eagle's of 39. If this list of owners is larger than any in the past, it may also be said that never, perhaps, has a better array of potential defenders readied for trials. Constellation, bearing sail No. US 20, will represent the cumulative experience of Designer Olin Stephens, which includes two former defenders, Ranger and Columbia . The other new boat, American Eagle, although from the board of a designer having his first try at a cup candidate, A. E. (Bill) Luders Jr., is based on a highly successful series of 5.5s, plus research and tank tests beginning in 1957. Vying with the new boats will be two well-tested veterans. Columbia will be seeking a comeback under new ownership to redress her defeat by Weatherly In '62. Nefertiti, likewise eliminated in the last trials, will return cheered by the memory that an improved Weatherly went on to selection and victory after her own initial failure.

Along with first-rate boats will go other firsts that should sharpen competitive interests in this series for participants and spectators alike. Foremost is a breakthrough in the traditional New York-Boston line of defenders. With the purchase of Columbia by Thomas Patrick Dougan, a California plastics manufacturer who has done most of his sailing out of the other Newport ( Calif.), competition in the trials will become truly national. Along with a change in the hailing port on Columbia 's stern will come an all-West Coast crew, many of whom worked together under Skipper Walter Podolak on the 8-meter Angelita and 10-meter Coquille, winners of practically every trophy available in California waters.

Another first for this season will be the adoption of an Olympic-style course instead of the traditional triangle and windward-leeward courses on alternate days. The new course combines both in one package. It will begin with a windward leg of 4� miles, followed by two reaching legs that close a triangle. Then the competitors will sail a windward-leeward course over the same first leg, and finally another windward leg to the finish—a total of six legs, three to weather, two reaching and one a dead run. Together they will include every point of sailing with the emphasis on beating. Elimination of long reaches and runs might well prevent the dismal parades of past years, when a rival once put astern usually stayed there. As Helmsman Eric Ridder of Constellation sees it, "There will be less emphasis on navigation, but more on sail handling, tactics and helmsmanship; more variety, more marks to round, more action—more chances for the crew and board of directors to make mistakes, but more opportunities to recover."

But perhaps the most exciting first leading up to the 19th contest for the America's Cup will be simultaneous final trials to choose a challenger as well as a defender. Both Sovereign and Kurrewa V will be brought to the U.S. to battle down to the wire off Newport for the honor of representing the Royal Thames Yacht Club. Two English boats crossed the Atlantic as part of the campaign against Ranger in 1937. Under the terms of the Deed of Gift, Endeavour I was eligible, but Owner T. O. M. Sopwith decided on the basis of a few informal early trials to challenge with the newer Endeavour II, so there were no real trials. The first Endeavour, turned over to an American helmsman, C. Sherman Hoyt, provided only companionable competition.

In the finals this time it will be winner take all for the English rivals, just as for their American counterparts, a sharpener of helmsmen and crews that no amount of polite practice against a trial horse can duplicate. For this as well as other reasons, there is already an indication that the challenge may be the strongest in nearly a century of trying. As the summer draws to a close, the Vim-Columbia epic of '58 could be replayed as a double feature if both sets of candidates are evenly matched. Or if the English and the surviving Americans each have one boat of pronounced superiority in light wind, and another in heavy, the drama could be heightened by a game of poker between the rival selection committees. Each must show its hand at least a week before the cup matches begin on September 15, so perhaps the draw will be influenced by the crystal ball of the weatherman.

To meet the invasion, Olin Stephens has turned out for Walter Gubelmann, Eric Ridder and their 30 co-owners a boat that is visually quite a departure from the mold of Vim and Columbia . Constellation on her builder's ways conveys an impression of angularity—of knifelike leading and trailing edges—rather than the rounded contours of wineglass sections. According to her designer, she is "sharper and finer forward than Columbia , but a little beamier on deck because of flare in the topsides." Viewed from below, her keel appears sharp enough to slice a shark in two; the lead terminates in such a narrow wedge that a bronze shoe must protect it even from the weight of the boat on her cradle. But it is aft that Constellation breaks most radically with past practice: the sternpost has been shoved forward to lessen keel length and resultant drag from wetted area, while the rudder has taken on an odd shape dubbed "fishtail" in the model tank. Narrow at the top, the blade curves like a scimitar to a wide base, terminating in a bronze-tipped point sharp enough to impale the same cruising shark should it attack from astern.

Along with this goes a mast made in part of titanium, one of the modern semiprecious miracle metals, light but strong, and capable of tremendous flexing without breaking. Despite the secrecy enveloping the project, it may be assumed that it is the ability to bend that is being sought: skippers of smaller classes have long utilized flexible masts to vary the shape of their mainsails, and thus add enormously to their efficiency, so perhaps titanium will make possible the same thing in a 12. Great thought has gone into speeding the changing of sails and harnessing their power by means of experimental gadgets which are, at this stage, more hush-hush than a Cape Kennedy missile. In the cockpit Helmsman Eric Ridder will face such unusual devices as meters that measure tension at various points inside the mast.

Over the long summer, however, the decisive factor is more likely to be men than machines. Ridder's own experience around the buoys stems principally from the 6-meters Goose and Llanoria; in the latter he was a member of the crew that won an Olympic gold medal at Helsinki in '52, and later went on to Sweden as helmsman to capture the One Ton Cup. "I got it the hard way," he recalls. "It goes to the first boat to win three races, and I lost the first two."

Alternate helmsman and tactical adviser aboard Columbia will be Robert N. (Bob) Bavier Jr. who, as secretary of the North American Yacht Racing Union, is an expert on nuances in the racing rules. He grew up sailing aboard his father's Memory, winner of the second Bermuda Race in 1924, and has recently successfully raced a boat of the same name himself. The navigator is K. Dun Gifford, a Harvard Law School student, chosen because of his ability to double in aluminum on a coffee grinder should short tacking duels develop. The deck crew will include men with former experience in 12s: bouncing Buddy Bombard of Vim and Weatherly, in charge of the foredeck, with another Vim '58 alumnus, Larry Scheu, directing activities amidships, plus Steve Van Dyck, Dick Goennel and Bob Connell. Their long summer of drill has already begun with several weeks of practice aboard Nereus, an older 12 whose deck layout, winches and even spinnaker-pole fittings were altered to be identical to those of Constellation. When the new boat is ready to sail they can switch over with no period of adjustment, an attention to detail that could pay off in the early trials.

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