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An ocean racer as ruthless as Captain Bligh
Hugh Whall
December 02, 1968
Sweet is a word often used in connection with sailboats, but the yacht with the complex winch arrangement shown here is just plain mean. She is Huey Long's new ketch 'Ondine,' the toughest race winner of them all
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December 02, 1968

An Ocean Racer As Ruthless As Captain Bligh

Sweet is a word often used in connection with sailboats, but the yacht with the complex winch arrangement shown here is just plain mean. She is Huey Long's new ketch 'Ondine,' the toughest race winner of them all

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The first thing one notices is the huge retractable rudder assembly, sticking up on deck like a sore thumb and rather resembling one. The combination of a spade rudder hanging down far aft and used in combination with a trim tab on the trailing edge of a keel was first tried with notable success by Olin Stephens aboard the cup defender Intrepid. But Tripp went Stephens one better. He made it so his spade could be cranked up and out of the water to reduce drag in light air or going to windward.

Prominent as well on Ondine's deck are the linked coffee-grinder winches made for her by Graydon-Smith, who made the grinders for Intrepid as well. They make it possible, if not exactly easy, to capture and control such huge expanses of sail as a 2,081-foot genoa.

Embedded in the deck just ahead of these grinders are flush deck ports to feed sunlight into the darkness below, and just beyond them, armed with a battery of winches, is a specially designed console to handle the halyards. Normally, such winches are mounted to a mast, but in the interest of greater efficiency Tripp and Long devised this console arrangement to give their halyardmen greater freedom and better footing to haul up the heavy sails.

To decrease the effect of the wind on her rigging, the halyards on Ondine's mainmast run up and down inside the mast, a spar as hefty as a 16-inch naval gun. This aluminum mast had to be specially fabricated, since no machine existed that was big enough to extrude it. A pair of rails shaped like upside-down U's give handholds or a back brace for crewmen working about the mast in bad weather. Alongside, like briars in a pipe-stand, a pair of Dorade ventilators funnel air below should the air-conditioning system fail.

If Ondine is a workhouse on deck, her accommodations below are as sumptuous as battle-weary crewmen could wish. Air conditioned in hot climates, heated in cold, her cabins are lined with quilted Naugahyde and vinyl, and way back aft in the owner's quarters is the sauna to steam out body kinks. It's not quite as fancy as the sauna in Long's New York apartment. "The one in my place," he explains, "has an upper and a lower bunk while Ondine's only has a lower, but it will do."

As for Ondine's galley, Escoffier could not demand more. "It's like the kitchen in a hotel," says Professional Skipper Sven Joffs, who has been with Long for nine years. Well, not quite, but it is roomier than many apartment kitchens and includes a 25-cubic-foot deep freeze, a huge electric range and an apartment-sized refrigerator.

More spacious even than the galley is the sail room, a compartment as rarely seen aboard an ocean racer as a sauna. It runs from one side of the hull to the other, and a maw of a hatch in the foredeck allows haystack-shaped bags full of sails to drop into it. With all its room, however, it provides scant space for Ondine's vast inventory of 26 sails.

Open a hatch in the sole, or floor, of any one of Ondine's belowdecks compartments and one finds a maze of pipes, pumps, compressors, wires, valves and engines. Not content with one electrical system, Long has four different voltages to play with: 12, 32, 110 and, for good measure, 220. "If we ever have another blackout in Manhattan, all they'll have to do to solve it will be to pull Ondine alongside and plug her in to light the city," declares Designer Tripp, who sometimes refers to Ondine as " Con Edison." There is, in fact, such a variety and quantity of machinery aboard Ondine that she is one of the first contemporary racing sailboats to carry a fulltime engineer on her roster.

For a boat of such complexity Ondine was designed and built surprisingly quickly, as Long insisted she be ready for the BA-Rio, or Buenos Aires to Rio race. Indeed, time was so important that Tripp drew the final lines without benefit of tank testing, usually a vital step in the creation of such top-line, custom-built craft. Into her hull Abeking and Rasmussen welded 25,000 pounds of aluminum, or enough to build between 40 and 50 16-foot runabouts.

During construction one of the most serious problems that confronted the builders was the delay of air-conditioning equipment made in the United States and held up in New York by a shipping strike. Already stowed aboard a freighter, it might just as well have been locked in Fort Knox for all the good it did Long. But that hitch was solved when a band of men stole aboard the ship one dark night, retrieved the machinery and, somehow, shipped it off on a plane for Germany.

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