Sighted from astern, the difference in the sailing angles looked to me like the legs of a long, narrow letter X, with Constellation on one leg moving from the lower left to the upper right, Sovereign sagging down to cross on the other. It was a bad moment for Peter Scott. As Olin Stephens commented later in a typical understatement, "The ability of Constellation to point high puts the helmsman of another boat at a terrible psychological disadvantage, because as soon as he tries to point with her he's licked." Peter Scott tried, and died. At the end of 15 minutes, the defender not only had crossed the X but was some 20 lengths in the lead.
Those following closely could see a variety of reasons why Constellation could go ahead. She sliced through the short, steep seas without pause, almost diving into the next trough, making distance with each rise and fall of her bow. Sovereign, in total contrast, lifted her bow to each sea, scooping water which cascaded aft to spill out under the genoa. She seemed to hang frozen in this inclined position until the crest rolled under, only to plunge to a stop in the hollow beyond. Meanwhile Constellation's flat sails never failed to provide drive, while the fuller sails of the challenger fluttered if she attempted to come high; in addition, the head stay of Constellation was perceptibly more rigid, adding to the efficiency of an already better genoa. Capping Constellation's, superiority, each time Sovereign attempted a tacking duel the defender gained through superior crew work and more powerful winches. "My God, a super Sceptre!" groaned a watching Londoner as the challenger trailed at the first weather mark by 3 minutes 55 seconds.
Bloody but unbowed, Sovereign gained a little on the reaching legs, and on the second beat her helmsman, Peter Scott, tried sailing more full, cracking his genoa slightly in a lighter breeze and driving off to nullify the deadly effect of the seas. Although he moved through the water faster than on the first leg, the result was basically the same. Constellation continued to eat out, piling up time and distance, although the margin was still in the category of a defeat and not a rout.
It was on the ensuing downwind run that Sovereign fell into real disgrace. As Constellation rounded the mark she set a small spinnaker that could be kept full in the combination of confused sea and moderate breeze—standard practice on American 12s since 1958. Sovereign broke out a huge red bag that could not be kept from collapsing except by holding very high of the course. It was a costly error—7 minutes 7 seconds worth—and the cost was compounded on the final windward leg. Once a mistake is made in match racing, it is almost axiomatic that it grows in magnitude. Now, as the breeze fell still lighter. Sovereign had a greater distance to cover after the defender had finished. For 20 minutes 24 seconds Constellation and the spectator fleet surrounded the committee boat in embarrassed silence while the challenger made her lonely way from almost out of sight to leeward. It was a defeat worse than Sceptre's two worst defeats added together, the most ghastly rout since Mayflower trounced the Scottish challenger Galatea in 1886.
After asking for a day to lick her wounds, Sovereign again faced the defender on Saturday in an easterly wind that blew a solid 20 knots, although in the early stages the sea was less rough. Peter Scott took the start by a considerable margin, but it did him no good. In characteristic style, Constellation pulled out from leeward, crossed ahead and was gone, to lead at the first mark by the crushing margin of 4 minutes 7 seconds. Thereafter Sovereign did better, relatively, despite an unaccountable failure to set a spinnaker on the first reaching leg when the leader was using one to advantage. She held on well during the final two beats, going down finally by 6 minutes 33 seconds to make the series 3-0. The fourth race was never a contest. After Sovereign crossed the line early and had to go back to restart, Constellation took off alone and steadily widened the gap into a crushing finale of 15 minutes 40 seconds.
So now once again in 1964, as in 1958, yachtsmen and landlubbers alike are asking each other in a slightly dazed fashion how it happens that an English challenger could be so woefully outmatched. This time it is universally agreed that the challenge was carefully planned. That a great deal of organizational effort went into it was proved by the task force representing the Royal Thames Yacht Club that has been operating in U.S. waters for much of the summer. Problems were recognized and solutions sought. There was no lack of confidence. In fact, a visiting flag officer was somewhat solicitous of my feelings at a cocktail gathering before the first encounter, suggesting I fortify myself against the prospect of losing the cup in four straight races.
Inevitably the stigma of Sceptre has attached to the current challenger, but I'm not sure the comparison is valid. To me there does not seem to be any single explanation for Sovereign's failure to provide the expected competition. A successful boat is a combination of many factors, all interrelated: the hull, the rig, the sails, the deck layout, the gear, the crew and the helmsman. Having had the privilege of sailing aboard both boats last week after watching them over the past few months, I have the feeling that in most or all of these items Sovereign fails to come up to the standard of her competitor. Perhaps in some categories she is closer than others, but the sum total can add up large margins over a 24.3-mile course.
Unfortunately, a scapegoat must be provided to explain any disaster, and the choice seems almost equally divided between Helmsman Peter Scott and Designer David Boyd, although there are those who include English sailmakers as a body. It is hard to watch Boyd's Sovereign plunge into head seas without thinking of her predecessor from the same drawing board, just as it is impossible not to criticize the man at her wheel for overhelming when the stern sometimes weaves like a dinghy caught in a squall. Yet the man who should know best does not rate either individual too harshly. "I don't think Peter was steering the boat so badly, any more than I think David has designed such a bad hull," says Olin Stephens. I agree with Olin and, moreover, I don't think the sails made by Bruce Banks are so bad either, except in direct comparison with what they are up against. But when everything is put together and the weakness in each department of Sovereign is contrasted with the strength in her rival, the difference becomes sadly apparent.
Some observers have taken the poor performance of the challenger as a downright affront to the challenged. "I'm damned mad," snorted a former commodore of the New York Yacht Club. "Here we go to all this trouble and expense, and they come over with such a boat." Others are sympathetic, muttering about the disintegration of the Empire, while still others see the spectacle as detrimental to the whole sport of sailing, occurring as it did right out in plain sight of onlookers and TV cameras.
Perhaps the real trouble is that Sovereign is up against too strong a rival. Constellation's designer modestly rejects the theory that she is a superboat, but many feel that this U.S. cup defender comes as close to being a breakthrough as it is possible to conceive under the stringencies of the 12-meter rule. There can be little question that once again the principal architect of an America's Cup victory is the quiet man with the pencil, Olin Stephens. A boy wonder in 1937 when he collaborated on the design of Ranger, he is now a mature genius with an unimpaired freshness of viewpoint. Instead of merely improving on the tested lines of Vim and
, he made a radical leap into the future. Speaking for Walter Gubelmann and the other syndicate members who made Constellation possible, for his brother Rod, Bob Bavier, Eric Ridder and the other men on her deck, Olin summed up the debacle in Newport by saying, "It's too bad for all of us who have put so much into it—we've put in so much that there isn't any contest left."