"Men who race boats are tough," Meyer explains. "But these girls are something else again. I can't understand it. Nobody can. We don't give them any special treatment, no favors. In racing they are just one of the boys. And one of these days—for sure—they're going to beat us all. And then what are we going to say?"
They can say the heck with mechanical engineering, for one thing. Racing boats are delicate pieces of floating equipment, for all their sturdy bulk, and most of the men who run them are master mechanics. Not Rene and Gale. Rene carries a Ping-Pong paddle on every race—"Everyone should have a Ping-Pong paddle aboard," she says brightly—to hold the engine's starter mechanism in place while she tightens it with the other hand. It seems to make wonderful sense when Rene explains it, but true mechanics blanch. On one race to Nassau, with Gale driving, Rene looked into the engine boxes, and "I could see red oil spurting out of those little things that pulsate," she says. (Translation: Someone had forgotten to put the stacks on the transmission breathers, and they were throwing out oil.)
"Well, we couldn't have that sort of thing going on," says Rene. "And there we were—out at sea—about 37 miles from Nassau. But I found that if I put my finger down over the hole, it held the oil in. So I squatted there beside the engine, holding first one finger and then another over that little hole—it was awfully hot oil—until we finished the race. It worked beautifully."
"Of course, her fingers are all a little shorter now," says Gale. And Rene, after 37 miles of kneeling over a blasting engine, was totally deaf for 24 hours after the race.
In the 1964 Sam Griffith race the seas were so rough that it was impossible even to lurch back to check the engines. So Rene sat down and slid along the deck, checking things and adding oil. It proved to be a dandy system, except that when they docked at Nassau, Rene had worn the seat completely out of her pants. She strolled up the dock with a towel wrapped around her waist, sarong fashion.
"Oh, we're a great team," says Gale. "In the Hurricane Classic, I had to overcome all the goofy elements. First, my nose was running like mad, and my eyes were watering. So I wrapped a towel around my face. Then I had put oil on my face to protect it, but I got some of the oil on my eyelashes. So every time I blinked it would make fuzzy little trails on the inside of my dark glasses and I couldn't see. Then I dropped—or kicked—my purse into the bilge. I'm always getting my purse into the bilge. I had left my diamond ring back at the hotel, thank God, but now I'm the girl with the smelliest purse in town. And we've got the only racing boat with a tube of orange lipstick knocking around down there somewhere in the bilge."
And Rene, who needs glasses to check charts close up, is always dropping things—her glasses mostly—into the bilge. "It's not so much buying these $25,000 boats that gets expensive," says Harry, "as it is buying all those new glasses for Rene."
Other women, understandably, cannot understand the fascination rough water has for Rene and Gale. To get to the Hurricane Classic, Rene took the new Miss Amazon out into the ocean and around the tip of Florida, inviting San Francisco Society Matron Alma Long along for the ride. First thing they ran into a slashing storm.
"My dear," says Mrs. Long, "you simply cannot imagine it. It was beyond belief. The boat was bouncing around on that ocean, and the water was simply pouring in over the bow. I couldn't understand why the windshields were not giving us any protection—until I found that Rene had told them not to put any glass in the windshields, because it might slow down the boat.
"We were soaked to the skin and hammered until we were all a little dazed and groggy. I began to think—somehow hysterically—about the clothing I had stored up in that tiny forward space. Finally I could think of nothing else, my dear, nothing. And I had a lovely new Givenchy coat that I had bought in London. The thought of that coat became the only thing in my mind. I began to inch forward ever so slowly—holding on for my very life—ever so slowly toward that Givenchy box.