- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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The agony didn't last long. At the end of only seven races (one of which was ruled incomplete), a small blue launch flying the flag of the Commodore of the New York Yacht Club nosed alongside the sleek flank of the 12-meter Columbia. With due sympathy, the gentlemen on board informed Skipper Briggs Cunningham that his charge was excused from further competition. Then the launch putted away to await Intrepid, which hadn't even gotten into her slip. Almost before dock lines were made fast the magic words were spoken, and Olin Stephens' newest boat became the 20th defender of the America's Cup.
The guillotine had fallen on Constellation and American Eagle two days earlier, leaving Columbia and Intrepid to battle alone. Although there was little doubt in anybody's mind that Intrepid was the better boat, Columbia was given a last chance to reverse the judgment. On Wednesday the two met in what have come to be called unofficially the final finals. There wasn't much wind, and what there was shifted so radically during the race that the second and third windward legs were turned into reaches. Before this Intrepid had gained one minute 40 seconds on the first beat. Rounding the mark, both boats set spinnakers. Neither worked very well in the light air and bobble of sea, so Intrepid shifted to her secret weapon—a "floater," or spinnaker so light that the crew claims even a prayer can lift it. While Columbia continued to wallow, Intrepid simply took off, arriving at the next mark almost 10 minutes ahead.
On what turned out to be the last day of racing, a damp, chill easterly blew in off the Atlantic, promising the sort of test everyone had wanted. While the wind was clocked at only 10 knots by the race committee, it had enough weight to kick up a lumpy sea and give the contestants a fair angle of heel. As was true throughout the trials, there was no aggressive jockeying before the start to get on top. Columbia started a few ticks of the watch ahead of her rival, but two boat lengths to leeward. For all practical purposes, the race was over. On each weather leg Intrepid widened her lead.
As before, the newer boat pitched less than the older and stood up straighter in the puffs. The short steep seas bothered her not at all. Intrepid had already demonstrated her speed in light winds, and now there could be little doubt that the harder it blew the greater would become her margin of superiority. Twenty or 200 races could only underline the inevitability of Intrepid's becoming the defender. As a member of the selection committee remarked to me as we walked away from the dock after she had been named, "There wasn't any reason to drag things out."
Unabashed spectators at the start of the last race and every other were Australian Skipper Jock Sturrock and his crew aboard Dame Pattie. Once I jokingly asked Jock if he had been discouraged by what he found, and he shook his head. After a moment of reflection, he added, "Quite the contrary."
Every time I saw Dame Pattie under sail she seemed to be going like blazes. Her designer, Warwick Hood (SI, June 5), describes her as "a yacht of heavy displacement with a long waterline length, minimum beam and low wetted surface... having a relatively high degree of stability because of the attention given to the control of hull weight and the positioning of ballast at a low level."
After quoting this to Olin Stephens, I asked for a similar thumbnail sketch of his own creation. "You might describe Intrepid in almost the same words," he answered, "skipping reference to the fact that we have two rudders. Of all the 12s in Newport today, Dame Pattie and Intrepid are more alike than any other two."
This piece of expert testimony should scuttle dockside comment that the Dame is little more than a copy of Constellation, as she tends to appear because of an almost identical deck layout. While her ends aren't as chopped off as the defender's, and while there is less visible effort to concentrate weight amidships and below, Hood, like Stephens, clearly had in mind the objective of creating a powerful yet easily driven hull with a minimum tendency to hobbyhorse in a seaway. Judging from the impressive margins by which Dame Pattie defeated Gretel in the selection trials held in rough water off Sydney Head last winter, he succeeded.
One may also recall the inspired campaign waged in 1962 by the Australians, who were new to the 12-meter class and new to conditions off Newport. Now the Aussies are as at home on the foredeck of a 12 as aboard one of their over-canvassed dinghies and, having been at Newport since the early part of July, they feel almost in home waters as they pass Brenton Reef.
One of the big questions that must remain unanswered until the matches are underway is how well the Australians have succeeded in developing their own sailcloth. Gretel was allowed to use American sails, but since 1965 the "country of origin" clause in the Deed of Gift has been interpreted more strictly, requiring that all of the equipment aboard a challenger as well as the vessel itself be a product of the challenging nation. To meet this condition, the Australian textile industry went on a crash program of analyzing imported fabric, weaving, testing and weaving again. Rumors preceding the arrival of Dame Pattie indicated they had succeeded well enough to produce a material so stable that lighter weight mainsails were feasible. This I was not able to judge by watching the Dame during practice, but her sails seemed very good indeed.