'I AM NOW 34 YEARS OLD AND CRAZY'
Twenty-four years ago, in Parramatta, Australia, a carefree boy of 10 spent his afternoons perfecting a special and totally useless art. Crouched behind a privet hedge, he would press gobs of wet clay on the tip of a springy staff. Then he would deftly flick the clay missiles into the air and watch them travel up, up, up in an exquisite trajectory until they landed with a splat on the facade of the Masonic temple across the street. If he put one or more shots inside the letter O in the word Masonic, young Warwick Hood considered the afternoon a success.
Although today Warwick Hood is a responsible adult, with a wife and two daughters, a mortgage on his house and a car not yet paid for, he is currently engaged in another odd pursuit that is just as unnecessary as tossing mud balls at a local temple, though it is somewhat more challenging. Summing up his present quest, Warwick Hood says simply, "I am now 34 years old and crazy. I am a naval architect who is trying to win the America's Cup."
For nearly five months, beginning last January, Hood's challenger sailed circles around her only rival, the 1962 cup boat, Gretel, in Australian waters, showing both the speed and the brittleness of a Thoroughbred. Named for the wife of a former Prime Minister, Dame Pattie is now on her way, by freighter, to the U.S. to face whatever American boat is chosen to meet her. In the pubs of Sydney the race is already under way. Dame Pattieis the darling of the daily press. She has appeared frequently on television, and if you want to know anything about 12-meter boats in Australia today it is not necessary to look up Designer Warwick Hood or his former employer, Alan Payne, who designed Gretel. You can find a 12-meter expert in any saloon.
Over the past few months, whenever the Dame fouled a halyard or popped a fitting. Designer Hood got a plethora of advice and expertise from all sorts of people. "Dear Mr. Hood," a letter might read, "I hear that you are having trouble with your mast, and I have a suggestion. I am a grazier in Bourke, and although I have never sailed a boat or been on one, the other day I was looking at my windmill and it occurred to me that you should..."
All over Sydney during the one-sided trials against Gretel hopes for the Dame ran high, although there were many doubters. One day last January a gray-haired blue-water skipper caught sight of Vim, the aged American 12-meter, riding on her mooring in Sydney Harbor, and mistook her (God knows how) for Hood's boat. "Ah, there's the Dame Pattie," the grizzled skipper exclaimed proudly, feasting his eyes on the antiquated lines of old Vim. "Right now a quid of mine says she takes the cup."
A taxi driver bogged down in the traffic on the Sydney Harbor Bridge thought differently. "The Dame's not got a chance," he said dolefully. "She's got a crook mast. The Yanks passed a law that won't allow her to use good wood in her mast." (Actually, all of the Dame's masts, crook or uncrook, are made of aluminum, by choice, not by Yankee decree.)
If perchance there should be a bit more magic in Dame Pattie than in any of the prospective U.S. defenders (the rebuilt
, the new Intrepid and the doughty American Eagle); if, moreover, the Australian helmsman, Jock Sturrock, can do as well across the starting line as he did with Gretel in 1962; and if the new Australian sailcloth, KAdron, is indeed as good as American Dacron, the cup will leave the New York Yacht Club for the first time in history. Then Designer Warwick Hood will become quite famous. He may never be knighted like Donald Bradman, the cricketer, or stuffed and put on display like Phar Lap, the wonder horse, but for sure his name will be shouted around for a while, accompanied by a great outpouring of beer.
On the other hand, if one of the Dame's halyards should foul or a spreader buckle at a crucial moment off Brenton Reef, or if Sturrock should drop a spinnaker too soon, or if the deck apes should get tangled in the sheets, or the afterguard's strategy prove unwise, Warwick Hood will be remembered simply as another errant knight who was struck down by an impossible windmill.
It is reckoned that this Australian challenge will cost more than 500,000 Australian dollars. But quite beyond the money, which was given in the main by big corporations, a great many individuals down under—shipwrights, riggers, sailmakers and crewmen—have given much of their time both to the Dame and to the ill-fated Gretel, which won only two out of 13 trial races against the new boat, and those because of accidents to her rival. Of all these individuals none has more at stake than Hood, who is not only giving time he should devote to more profitable work but is also laying his professional reputation on the line. Although he is aware that after every challenge the rats of hindsight always come to gnaw on the carcass of the losing designer, Hood—curiously—is the most relaxed man on the Australian team.