something still ugly enough to stiffen the hairs on a sailorman's neck.
Nowadays, for the most part, its connotation is historical or fictional, and
the hairs that stiffen do so out of empathy for the plight of Fletcher
Christian as he suffered aboard the Bounty or in horror at the twisted psycho
who commanded the Caine. But last summer the word mutiny suddenly became
topical as the sports pages of the nation's newspapers bloomed with rumors of a
crew rebellion aboard the newest, sleekest, fanciest and (quite probably) most
expensive ocean-racing yacht ever built: Millionaire Shipping Owner Sumner A.
(Huey) Long's 73-foot ketch Ondine III.
The rumors began
to circulate when word came that Ondine had quit the Transatlantic Race from
Bermuda to Travem�nde, West Germany somewhere off The Skaw at the mouth of the
Baltic and was putting into Bremen instead. As it turned out, the rumors were
false. As Long himself explained later, "We'd just about run out of time
when we reached The Skaw, where the first and longest leg of the race ended.
Ondine badly needed a refit before she left for Australia, and her builders in
Bremen were about to close up shop for the summer. Since it didn't seem likely
we'd be able to finish the race and then go on to Bremen in time to catch the
builders, I radioed the escort ship and told them I'd like to drop out of the
race and head directly for Bremen."
The escort ship
quite naturally agreed to Ondine's dropping out and agreed moreover to take 12
of her 21 crewmen on to Travem�nde for the race-end festivities. Then the
Bremen boatbuilders, Abeking and Rasmussen, abruptly decided to keep their yard
open a while longer for Good Customer Long—and Ondine finished the race anyway
amid a new spasm of gossip.
reasonable and explicable, so what got the talk of mutiny started in the first
place? "I swear to God," said Long himself sometime later, "I don't
know where people get these ideas." But the mystery was not that deep. Huey
Long, a man with a compulsive will to win, has long had a reputation for
driving his crews harder than any other racing skipper afloat. There were
plenty of Long graduates on the beaches of the world who in their hearts had
sometimes nursed the notion of mutiny, even though they had never let it
mature. Their first response to news that a dozen Long crewmen were planning to
leave his ship in mid-race was an instant, "Aha!" Less emotionally
involved sailors jumped to the same conclusion for a different reason. The
Captain Bligh of this drama, they suspected, was not a man at all, but a boat:
Ondine III herself, a sailing vessel seemingly designed for the express purpose
of straining her crew to its utmost.
Over the last
several years most ocean racers and yacht designers have concerned themselves
more with handicaps than with sheer speed. In general the speed of a sailboat
depends on the length of her load waterline, i.e., the maximum length of hull
submerged in the water while she is racing. But racing rules restrict the
overall length of any boat to 73 feet. Of this, in conventionally designed
craft a large proportion is devoted to overhang at the bow and the stern.
Ondine is the forerunner of a new breed of ocean racers whose purpose is not to
earn a high handicap by a tricky balancing of length and sail area but simply
to go fast. "The hell with trying to beat small boats on time," says
one of the prophets of the new trend. "Let's just see who can build the
The way to do
this, of course, is to build more waterline into her, and "Pretty
soon," says Long, "one of us will go all the way with a boat 73 feet
overall and 73 feet on the water."
Until such a boat
is built, Ondine is the next best thing. As veteran blue-water man Dick
Bertram, one of her watch captains on the Transatlantic, explains,
"Although she is only 73 feet long on deck, Ondine is 65 feet on the
waterline, which really makes her the equivalent of an 85-footer with her ends
cut off. Her sail plan, therefore, is tremendous by the standards of a
For her crew,
sailing other boats is to sailing Ondine like surfing Virginia Beach is to
tackling Banzai or Sunset, only more so. Powered by parking-lot expanses of
practically bulletproof Dacron, rigged with unbending stainless-steel rod,
worked with merciless wire sheet and capable of withstanding all but the worst
the sea can dish out, Long's new boat (he gave the old Ondine to the U.S. Naval
Academy) is a floating torture test. During her maiden race in South America,
Ondine spent much of her time thrashing into big seas and high winds.
"Changes in the wind velocity called for so many changes of headsail,"
says Watch Captain Bertram, "that my crew of seven would lie in the cockpit
exhausted when their watch was over."
But if Ondine
makes infinite and unreasonable demands on her crewmen in the heat of
competition, her designer, William Tripp, seemingly overlooked nothing that
might make them more comfortable in the performance of their stern duties. Her
conveniences range all the way from a retractable spade rudder for making
steering easier to a sauna bath for the easing of strained muscles.
speaking, Ondine is far from pretty to look at. Her bulbous bow and truncated
stern look snubbed and graceless. But there is brutish ugliness about her that
suggests the sense of power found in a bulldozer.