In fact, chief
criticism aimed at the 5.5s, North pointed out, was their cost. They demand
great wardrobes of sails, spare and often exotic spars and custom-built
fittings. The result is that many sailors are disturbed by growing costs in the
class and the emphasis on design, plus the fact that few regattas are scheduled
for the 5.5s. There is a feeling that many in the rank and file of sailing will
convince the union to replace the class in the 1972 Olympics with a more
democratic, cheaper, less sophisticated boat.
The new Luv, for
example, cost North and Peter Peckham some $15,000, including design fee, tank
testing, sails and rigging. But not far away sat Lady Luck, a strange-looking
vessel concocted by MIT's Dr. Jerry Milgram. Her cost was said to be in the
All the boats on
the Newport Harbor Yacht Club line were about 3% faster than the boats of a
year ago, said Britton Chance Jr., a 28-year-old who designed 11 of the 17
entries. Chance, who many predict will be the next Olin Stephens when that
peerless yacht designer retires, firmly maintained that 5.5s "are only as
expensive as you want to make them." And, discounting the fact that he has
more at stake than anyone else, he feels that the class deserves to live on its
"A hell of a
lot more innovation has come out of this class than, say, the 12-meters,"
he said. "Small keels, modern high-aspect-ratio rigs, Mylar spinnakers, all
came from the 5.5s."
And Newport Beach
did, indeed, look like a designer's dream. There were rectangular keels, delta
keels, scimitar rudders, rudders like airplane flaps, masts with holes all over
them, flat booms, round and oval booms—and several boats with hard ridges
running almost the length of their topsides, thus permitting a low wetted
surface. All were aimed, in their own way, at the light airs of Acapulco, where
the survivor will fight it out for Olympic medals.
And so, masts
tuned, sails picked, bottoms polished slickly, what may be the last Olympic
trials the 5.5s will ever experience got under way.
Sailor North had
been looking at the skies and had mused, "I think a controllable mast helps
in a breeze, but not so much in light air. In fact, we may not even use
But when Sunday
afternoon came up washed in bright sunshine—complete with light air and a long
swell—North decided to go for the gadget. So did Cassel; only Allan elected to
go for an old-fashioned sail.
And when it was
all over, the only conclusive finding seemed to be that the role of the flopper
is still uncertain, and that the 5.5-meter men would have to continue worrying
about it through the entire week of trials. For one thing, North made a poor
start and never overcame the handicap, finishing fifth. Allan and Cassel also
finished far down the fleet.
The winner and
leader from start to finish was a tense, up-tight gentleman named Gardner Cox,
aided by an all-star combination of champion dinghy skipper Dr. Stuart Walker
and 12-meter hand and sailing instructor Steve Colgate. Nervousness aside, Cox
is a sailor's sailor; he was three-time international champion in Penguin
dinghys and despite the fact he is a newcomer to the sophisticated 5.5s he
became U.S. champion of that class this year.