After 23 days and seven hours the biggest transatlantic yacht race ever scheduled came to an end—or as near an end as such a race ever comes, for those who sailed in it will be talking and remembering and reliving it for a generation. George M. Moffett Jr.'s new yawl Guinevere was neither the first nor the last of the 42 starters to finish, but her story—as told by a sailor who has endured and/or been thrilled by more than a dozen such ocean races—might well be the story of them all.
An ocean-racing yacht, like a successful marriage, is the end product of a long period of flirtation, courtship and final commitment—followed by a session of agonizing reappraisal known to yachtsmen as a shakedown cruise and to bridegrooms as a honeymoon. George Moffett's new, 48-foot aluminum yawl Guinevere, his third of that name, was as beautiful as any bride when she departed on her honeymoon a few weeks ago with a trousseau of shining new Barient winches and other nautical ornaments, electronic and otherwise. But instead of carrying her down a path of sunlit silver to a cottage small, Guinevere's route led her across the gale-swept North Atlantic as part of the biggest fleet of yachts ever to stage a race across that treacherous stretch of sea. On the night the honeymoon began, an icy east wind, gusting to 30 knots and dumping Niagaras of rain on the fleet, tortured the seas off Bermuda's Kitchen Shoals. There were nine of us on board; my duties included serving both as deckhand and chief cook.
As sails were hoisted and reefed in the icy spray at the start of the race the boats heading for the line jammed together as though the finish were just over the horizon. Thor Ramsing's 50-footer Solution was over early, just ahead of Guinevere, whose trousseau had already begun to part at the scams. Our main boom outhaul had just let go and was repaired with temporary seizing when the mizzen outhaul ruptured. We filed the mizzen for future consideration and started the race as a sloop.
By nightfall we were alone in a welter of sea, rising wind and violent motion. Several hours later, exactly at midnight, Guinevere dived off one cresting sea into another, took a ton of water across her foredeck and split out two seams on the No. 3 genoa. We got it down and dumped it, soaking, into the cabin. There for 10 hours I sat and stitched the seams down which a sailmaker had run his sewing machine in 10 minutes.
As I stitched (and cooked) the wind died and the leftover lollop of sea threw the boat around so that we had to eat sitting on the cabin sole and holding our food in shallow, round bowls from which the stew now and then slopped. The two youngsters in the crew—Terry Meyer and Cabot Lyman—ate only token servings. It was a poor beginning for anyone. But when morning dawned the sky was clear and there was a modest breeze. Dick Nye's Carina was visible ahead but nothing showed astern. The two junior members suddenly began to wolf peanut-butter sandwiches.
Two days later, Guinevere developed severe internal complications. When we tried to start the engine for recharging batteries and refrigeration, it was dead. A brand-new starter on a brand-new engine on a brand-new boat—and it was dead with 80 pounds of frozen meat thawing in the refrigerator. Meanwhile the wind had freshened and moved round to the stern to set us charging wildly 15� either side of our course. Bob Derecktor's Wild Goose was coming up well astern bringing even more wind with her. As we went from genoa to spinnaker to match the new slant, the jib halyard flew aloft, ran over the masthead sheave and came flopping down on deck.
In truly modern boats, halyards are run down the inside of hollow metal masts instead of alongside of them as they used to. This is fine except that it makes it virtually impossible to replace a halyard at sea. We tried, or rather Nick Noyes tried, but without immediate success. Half an hour at the masthead in a swinging sea is enough, generally, to render a man confused, abraded and discouraged. But Nick came down with at least the dimensions of the problem in his mind. A day later we managed to pull the end of the halyard through a hole in the back of the mast (put there for that purpose) and make it again available. But the engine, and therefore the lights, refrigeration and radiotelephone were through for the trip. Our peerless leader put the boat under emergency eating orders.
To make up for the past, July 4 was a great day. The wind was satisfactorily over the stern, the boat mercifully upright and going well and everyone ravenous. Breakfast was pork chops and french toast; I turned a 15-pound roast into two massive containers of carbonnade de boeuf for future reference, then served lamb chops for lunch. We had a traditional feast to celebrate Independence Day with streamers, balloons, speeches, presents for everyone and American flags everywhere save over the desk of Navigator Alan Gurney—who happens to be British and hence had nothing to celebrate. Yet all this was a kind of whistling in the dark.
One learns only gradually the complexities of making a new boat respond effortlessly and easily to her helm, and steering on a run is difficult at best. At sunset on the 4th, the wind came on hard from astern and blew gustily for the next five days. So, after supper, we had our first lessons in running wild, out of control. A heavy swell from abeam, joining the newly cresting seas from astern, threw rogue-waves across Guinevere's quarters. As each wave crossed, it would lift up the stern and spin the boat around 30� off course in a swipe, changing the angle of the bow's dig into the wave ahead and sending the helm from desperation full right rudder to an immediate emergency left rudder. Then, thrown thus wind abeam, the whole groaning rig would lie down, charge up a sea, dump the air out of the spinnaker, spring up again and wipe around off to course in a great rubbery wrench of rig and hull.
This sort of work is hard on rudders, masts and people. We learned later that the heavy weather cost Pen-Duick II her rudder, Firebrand her skeg rudder, and Wild Goose her auxiliary rudder. Xanadu II broke her rudder quadrant and went to emergency tiller, Katama's mast began to asparagus around and Fearless had a man swept overboard (and recovered). Meanwhile our girl, in the midst of the wild running, broke her spinnaker block hanger with a Gun-smoke bang, so that the unsupported wire halyard sawed its way down the aluminum mast before we could do anything but worry. Then the spinnaker got wrapped around the spinnaker net (held aloft by the genoa halyard). We again had to send a man to the masthead to untangle matters. The damaged hanger had to be replaced, the damaged halyard hoisted out of the mast, the spinnaker and its net untangled and the whole blasted rig reset. So down came the mainsail and up went Tony Higgins, our one professional sailor, who spent two hours swinging through 50� of sky while we made 6.5 knots under mizzen and wrapped spinnaker.